The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has released its latest report. It has called for ‘An immigration system that works for science and innovation’. It says that post Brexit, the UK needs to adopt a visa-free and permit-free immigration system for skilled workers.
The debate over the kind of immigration system needed post Brexit is vital if the high-tech sector and other sectors where skilled workers are needed is to maintain the levels of employment needed. Both the tech sector and health care sectors are already experiencing huge difficulties in recruiting skilled staff.
Accusing the government of “inaction” on the issue, the Committee added that the situation has become urgent, with the UK expected to leave the European Union at the end of March next year.
Norman Lamb, chair of the Science and Technology Committee and Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said, “Collaboration is crucial to the UK maintaining its position as a science superpower, and it is essential that the UK has an immigration system that facilitates the mobility of the science and innovation community,”
“Delay in confirming how the system will work following Brexit is deeply damaging. Industry and research communities urgently need certainty.
“If the UK wishes to remain open and attractive to the brightest and best global talent following Brexit, it requires an immigration system that allows researchers, technicians, students and innovative entrepreneurs to arrive and work in the UK without facing a burdensome and daunting process.
“Nobody wants to see damage to our economy as a result of restricting the ability of skilled workers to come to this country. This is essential for our future prosperity.”
The report makes a series of recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, including:
Establishing the right to visa-free and permit-free work in the UK for up to 180 days for EEA skilled workers; on the basis that scientific and technical research in particular relies on workers being able to “collaborate face-to-face, and to make use of equipment, for relatively short periods”.
The report added that applying similar measures to non-EEA countries in the future would have “clear advantages
Creating a five-year skilled work permit for anyone with the offer of employment, at a minimum salary “that reflects the going rate for the job” adjusted by region;
Reinstatement of the Tier 1 post-study work visa;
Removing the cap on Tier 2 general visa, along with cuts in the costs of making an application.
Alongside reducing the costs associated with Tier 2 visa applications, the MPs said the existing immigration framework should be redesigned to make sure it does not rely on salary “as a proxy for skill”.
Mr Lamb went on to describe the framework as “sustainable and enforceable” that would promote the UK as “the go-to place for science and innovation”.
Karen Kaur, immigration analyst at law firm Migrate UK, said she “could not imagine” the government approving the measure for a single sector.
“The biochemical industry is losing EU nationals and staff because they don’t want to go through a rigorous post-Brexit visa process – but other sectors including engineering and IT have also been hit hard, especially as they are still subject to the Tier 2 visa cap,” she said.
The government announced in its white paper released last week that the UK would seek a reciprocal arrangement around worker mobility with the EU to support businesses and employees following Brexit.
“From a mobility perspective, it is encouraging to see that the government has listened to employers, especially in terms of youth mobility, onward movement for UK citizens within the EU and visa-free business travel,” said Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD
“Intra-company transfers will also be an essential vehicle for HR to transfer staff between the UK and EU for short-term assignments and training, and offer some reassurance among organisations that are considering relocating part or all of their operations.”
Kaur stressed future immigration policies must account for low-skilled and high-skilled jobs.
“Lower skilled jobs and smaller companies… cannot afford to retain individuals by hiking up salaries or providing incentives, and a lot of companies are being hit by the immigration skills charge, which they can’t afford,” she said.
“Industries such as hospitality and service are then going to have to recruit and train people in the UK, which is what the government wants, but it will take time to train someone to the level at which our existing workforce currently stands.
“In the meantime, these industries are likely to suffer.”
Jackie Penlington, immigration and employment expert at law firm Stevens & Bolton, raised additional concerns over the lack of detail around provision of lower-skilled workers, warning of an impending “recruitment headache” if this is not addressed.
“This is clearly concerning for many UK employers who rely heavily on an EEA workforce,” she said.
“Once the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, many employers are likely to face a recruitment headache to fill lower skilled roles, particularly in some sectors such as agriculture and hospitality.”