Prior to the recent UK general election, I had the opportunity of attending breakfast meetings with both the Minister for Immigration and the Shadow Minister for Immigration on separate occasions. I was comfortable with their approach in terms of business migration. They accepted and acknowledged that there had already been significant changes and consultations that had taken place and that the route to business immigration worked well and really wouldn't need any tinkering.
Post-election the gloves are off and Mr Cameron wants to lead the charge from the front without looking back at the elements of immigration policy which had been successful in maintaining a fair, business friendly system. He is pushing the agenda on reducing net migration regardless of the true benefit that migration may have to the UK. Since being re-elected he has appointed himself to lead a newly-formed Immigration Taskforce which will be focused on reducing net migration.
Mr Cameron has also announced that he has requested a further consultation with the Migration Advisory Committee on a raft of business immigration matters which include:
• restricting work visas to genuine skills shortages and highly specialist experts
• setting a time limit on how long a sector can claim to have a skills shortage
• imposing a new skills levy on businesses which sponsor Tier 2 visas to boost funding for UK apprenticeships
• raising salary thresholds to stop businesses using foreign workers to undercut wages
There are several recent reports, one of which is a report by Credit Suisse, which confirm that if the Government's priority is economic growth and low unemployment, then the focus on continuing to raise the various threshold levels to restrict skilled migration into the UK is simply wrong.
If the above factors are not already worrying to businesses that rely on skilled migration then they should be. In 2011 the coalition Government introduced an annual immigration cap of 20,700 visas for all new employer-sponsored skilled workers through the Tier 2 General route. The monthly allocation of Tier 2 General Certificates of Sponsorship for newly hired skilled workers is 1,650 per month, with any surplus allocation being carried over to the following month. In May 2,277 requests for Tier 2 General Certificates of Sponsorship had been granted and these were honoured by using the surplus that had built up prior to the general election result being announced and business confidence returning.
Just over 4 years after the immigration cap's introduction, June will be remembered as the month that we first saw the impact of the monthly immigration cap being met, with at the very least 400 applications having to be refused. It is worth noting that a significant part of the surge of the Tier 2 General requests for June was as a result of graduate season. That is, we are trying to attract and retain the best of the best international graduates to ensure we can continue to stimulate growth in the economy.
The refusal of so many applications for the first time has left many businesses in a very difficult position but also it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth of skilled individuals that we want to attract and retain in the UK. It slams the door shut on the Conservative Party's pre-election proclamations that 'Britain is open for business'.
For the month of June, people that were successful in obtaining a Tier 2 General Certificate of Sponsorship from the capped quota were individuals who were either taking up positions that were in a limited number of specific shortage occupations, at a PhD level or those where stringent advertising requirements were met and a minimum salary of at least £46,000 was going to be paid. Apologies NHS if you were trying to bring in some nurses to look after our sick and elderly, but the salary that nurses are paid wouldn't have met the threshold this time around. Sorry National Grid - those engineers you need to maintain the infrastructure that helps keep our homes and businesses running probably didn't make it through the cap either.
Reducing migration from the 'hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands' is going to have an impact. A negative impact. It is an impact that will not only affect those businesses that rely on skilled migration but also the general population who rely on those businesses and core public service sectors.
With the economy having now picked up I anticipate that reaching the cap will be a more frequent occurrence. Businesses can expect a rocky road ahead.