The UK government is expected to announce this week that it is relaxing its immigration rules for non-EU doctors and nurses, removing them from the Tier-2 visa cap, freeing up space for technology workers looking for jobs in industry.
The Tier-2 visa enables UK employers to employee skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area and there is an annual limit of 20,700 visas that can be issued each year.
However, it was recently revealed that Britain, for the first time in seven years, hit its cap for issuing visas for a number of consecutive months in a row.
There is mounting evidence that EU workers are either leaving the UK, or not coming to the UK to work in numbers that they used to since the Brexit vote, making it harder for employers to fill skilled vacancies.
This has placed pressure on the NHS, which has thousands of nurses and doctors positions left vacant, but has also left the technology industry fighting over scarce resource and struggling to attract talent.
The BBC recently revealed that more than 1,600 IT specialists and engineers offered jobs in the UK were denied visas between December and March because the Tier-2 visa cap had been reached.
Whilst the decision to remove doctors and nurses from the cap will directly benefit the NHS, it could also have positive implications for the technology industry, freeing up numbers for applicants
There were concerns that the government was ignoring industry’s calls to review the Tier-2 visa system, after Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes recently told the House of Commons:
We are very clear that businesses should look first to employ people from within the UK, and we remain committed to reducing migration to sustainable levels. Interestingly, businesses have told us that our system compares well with our global competitors and that businesses like its speed and certainty.
However, recently appointed Home Secretary Sajid Javid hinted at a change of heart earlier this month, suggesting a new direction for the government’s immigration policy, when he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that he “saw the problem” with the cap and would take a “fresh look” at it.
It is enough?
Whilst the technology industry may collectively breath a short-lived sigh of relief at the news, it’s still unclear how many spots this will free up for those recruiting outside of the EU and competition is likely to be fierce.
Prominent figures within the technology community recently gave evidence to a House of Lords EU Internal MArket Sub-Committee, urging reform of the Tier-2 visa system.
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a a private sector led coalition of over 5,700 expert individuals from the tech sector and broader community, said that one of the things that the government can do right now is improve foreign workers’ access to visas and skilling up the nation in terms of digital skills.Shaw told the Committee:
Things on my wish list that could be addressed now – we need to immediately look at the Tier-2 cap. 20,700 Tier-2 visas is simply not enough. I think we can do things like third party sponsorship of Tier-2 visas, so that we ensure that Tier-2 level is getting the right inflow of talent.
Shaw also noted, that during his travels around the world, he’s noticed that some of the talent that was planning to come to the UK to work, is “now thinking twice”. He said:
Because of what I’d describe as the soft power message, what is coming out of the UK in terms of Brexit. We have to project a message about the openness we have here, that we really want to create a global Britain. We are going to have to change that message, because I’m worried and I’ve already seen people not wanting to come here because of that message.
If we don’t fill these jobs, these businesses will struggle. The start-ups won’t become scale ups, the scale ups won’t become midsize companies, we will have fewer larger organisations. We need to solve this problem now.
Antony Walker, deputy-CEO of technology trade association, techUK, highlighted to the committee that non-UK talent plays a “really important and significant role” in the digital sector. He said that talent currently employed in the sector from the EU is about 7-8%, but added that the net contribution has significantly increase in recent years as the sector has grown. Walker added that these are “highly skilled and talented people”, where 78% are educated to degree level, earning between £45,000 and £80,000. Walker said:
It’s very, very important. These people play an important role. The sector is growing, so it needs more skills. And the economy is digitising, so the economy as a whole needs more digital skills. So there’s an increasing scarcity and the domestic talent pipeline can’t meet that demand.
We are concerned we don’t want to see a cliff edge when the UK leaves the EU, so in the transition period we would like a situation where citizens coming into the UK would have the same rights to claim settled status through that transition period.
And then in time we have to develop a new migration system. And what we are absolutely clear about is that the existing Tier-2 system is not fit for purpose and is not able to cope with the change of status, in terms of losing free movement.