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New UK Policies on Immigration of Skilled Workers

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 27 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Immigration Uk Skilled Workers Visa

The immigration rules on UK visas for skilled workers have gone through a period of substantial change over the last few years. The introduction of the points-based immigration system in 2008 made it much harder for some foreign nationals to satisfy the requirements to obtain a UK work visa. However, some British people believe that the changes have not gone far enough and that it is still too easy for foreign nationals to come to the UK.

One of the first immigration announcements made by the UK’s coalition government after they were formed, following the May 2010 General Election, was a tightening of the rules on skilled workers. In effect, this toughening of the rules is likely to incorporate the implementation of two broad policies: reducing the need to recruit workers from abroad and making it more difficult for those foreign workers to obtain a visa.

The Current Immigration Rules for Skilled Workers

Skilled workers who wish to come to the UK usually apply under Tier 2 of the points- based immigration system. In order to qualify for a visa most skilled workers will have to show that they already have a sponsor and a valid certificate of sponsorship. In other words the skilled worker must already have a job offer from an employer who is licensed to sponsor foreign workers.

If the foreign worker can overcome that initial hurdle they will then have to score the requisite number of points to obtain a Tier 2 visa. Points are awarded for qualifications, prospective salary, English language skills and the applicant’s ability to maintain themselves financially.

Immigration Policies of the UK’s Coalition Government

As soon as the UK’s coalition government came into power they announced several new immigration policies. One of the first of these was a proposed cap on non-EU immigration. Clearly, such a restriction could affect foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK as a skilled worker.

Prior to the election the UK’s Conservative Party had made this cap on non-EU immigration a focus of its campaign. Although criticised by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates prior to the election, it is precisely this policy which has been announced by the coalition government consisting of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers.

Training British Workers and Increasing the British Labour Pool

The thinking behind the new government’s policy on immigration by skilled workers is not simply about reducing the number of immigrants who come to the UK each year. However, the UK is essentially a small island, with limited resources. Supporters of a cap on non-EU immigration believe that it is vital to act now before the UK’s infrastructure ceases to be able to sustain a growing population.

Also behind the government’s policy is a belief that more attention should be placed on increasing the quality of Britain’s labour market. There are currently high levels of unemployment and / or economic inactivity by British citizens. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested that unemployment, as at April 2010, amounted to 2.47 million. Perhaps more perplexing are the growing numbers of adults of working age who are deemed economically inactive. Whilst unemployment actually went down slightly in April 2010 the numbers of those in employment also fell slightly. The figures showed that over 8 million people were economically inactive during the period covered.

The UK’s government believes that it is better for society as a whole if more of these economically inactive people can be encouraged into the labour market. Therefore, the intention is to put more spending into training and educating the unemployed and the economically inactive. By doing this, the government believes that it can substantially reduce the need for skilled workers to come from abroad to work in the UK.

An Annual Limit on Non-EU Immigration

In June 2010 the UK’s Home Secretary announced that a temporary limit of 24,100 workers from outside of the UK was being imposed. This is, in part, intended to prevent an increase in the numbers applying for visas before the permanent cap - which is due to be introduced in April 2011. Some leaders of UK businesses and industry have been sceptical about the wisdom of limiting immigration into the UK by skilled workers. There has been some concern that a cap might be imposed before the necessary steps have been taken to reduce the need for foreign workers. Whatever is finally decided, it is highly likely that the eligibility requirements for a Tier 2 visa will only become stricter under the new government.

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