How migration policy should change after Brexit
21 November 2019
On behalf of members ISE has responded to the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on changes to migration policy. Chief Research Officer Tristram Hooley explains what student employers need to avoid a skills crisis.
Brexit is going to change a lot of things in the UK economy and one of the most obvious areas will be migration policy. Indeed, many people have argued that a desire for changes to migration was an important factor in driving a leave vote. Many UK businesses are dependent on EU migrants to fill a wide range of roles. So how is the UK going to manage these changes without a crisis in skills and labour?
The government has tasked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to come up with a way forward on migration policy. The main idea is to move from an ‘employer-driven’ work-visa system (where people can’t come in unless they have a job) to an ‘Australian points based system’ (where people can come in without a job as long as they meet certain criteria).
The problem is that ‘points based systems’ can work in a lot of different ways, which is why we ran a consultation with members in September and October to make sure that we could have our say and input to the MACs national consultation.
Our consultation consisted of a survey of members as well as discussion with sector and special interest groups, the ISE team and board. Out of this consultation process we put together a submission to the Migration Advisory Committee that made the following points:
Migration matters in the early talent part of the labour market
Many of our members recruit from a wide range of countries in order to be able to get the quantity and quality of entry-level positions that they need. It is important that the new system ensures that businesses are still able to access global talent for early career positions. This is why we have also made ‘Design migration policies that enable businesses to access high quality global talent’ one of the key policies highlighted in the ISE manifesto.
The current employment visa system isn’t working very well
It is complex, expensive and bureaucratic to move student applicants from outside of the EU from a student (tier 4) visa to a working (tier 2) visa. If government is about to add all EU migrants into this system it desperately needs to be simplified and streamlined.
Salary thresholds and points based systems need to recognise early talent as a special case
Many of the regulations around migration are based on salary or experience. Assumptions include the idea that only higher earning (with the assumption that these are also higher skilled) roles should require international migrants and the idea that someone with more experience has a stronger case for migration. These assumptions break down in the case of early talent, where it may be important to recruit someone with a particular skillset or training at the start of their career, but where salaries are not normally very high and experience is often short. Any thresholds that are set on salaries or experience need to recognise the fact that early career hires are different from experienced hires.
Salary thresholds and points based system need to recognise regional, sectoral and occupational differences
ISE members had serious doubts about one-size fits all salary thresholds or point allocations. Most members were keen to see regional, sectoral and occupational variations to any system that is developed. Recruiting is highly context specific and trying to recruit a computer programmer is very different depending on if you are a tech company in London or an engineering company in the North East. The new system needs to be responsive to employer needs and skills shortages and not fall for the myth that the UK is a single, uniform labour market.
What happens next
Our consultation showed that ISE members are concerned about the future of migration in the country. It is important that the new system is developed with stakeholder consultation and careful piloting.
Key aims for the system should be that it works efficiently and does not burden business with huge overheads in terms of time or cost. It should also recognise that an effective system cannot be a one-size fits all solution. There is a clear need to recognise regional, sectoral and occupational specificities and to design thresholds and points-based systems in ways that address them.
Once the Migration Advisory Committee has finished analysing the consultation responses that they received we expect that they will publish a more detailed proposal. This will have to wait until after the election, but may then move quickly, assuming that Brexit also starts to move. Whatever happens the ISE will be keeping a close eye on proposals and continuing to influence them to ensure that they work for our sector.
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