UK needs skilled migrants
LORD Heseltine delivered his report to the UK Government two weeks ago entitled No Stone Unturned. He recommended ways in which British business can become more competitive in the global market. Subsequent debate has centred around Lord Heseltine's recommendation to remove power from central government and to devolve it to the regions. Lord Heseltine dedicated a chapter to immigration, in which he recommended that:
Mechanisms should be found to encourage UK students to study courses such as engineering and science. He recognised that it would take a generation before they entered the job market and argued that it was vital for skilled migration to continue.
The UK must continue to welcome overseas students.
The Home Office should have a targeted communications programme to align public perception and reality of the importance of skilled migration to the UK economy.
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The Government should cut red tape of immigration applications and deal with them quickly and more efficiently.
The former head of the Civil Service, Lord O'Donnell, recently broke ranks in an attack on the UK's immigration policy. Writing in The Times on November 1, he said that "the first thing the Government can do to help with growth is to stop shooting itself in the foot… A big barrier to growth is an immigration policy that deprives the UK of skilled workers".
Similar concerns have also been echoed by organisations such as the CBI and the Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, we have a Government that is not willing to listen and is sticking to its pre-election promise of reducing net immigration to below 100,000 by 2015.
The problem with the Government's stance is that the current tally on immigration stands at 216,000 and therefore it is unlikely that the target will be met. In frantically trying to do so, the Government is damaging the UK's reputation by targeting those groups of migrants which would prove to be an asset to the UK economy.
One of our greatest exports, higher education, has seen a reduction in student visas of 21 per cent. This is partly down to the negative press abroad following the London Metropolitan University case, and partly because the Government made it harder for students to stay on after studies to be able to work in the UK.
Currently, the UK Border Agency is dealing with applications from as far back as April-May for sponsor licence applications made by employers. The best global talent is not going to wait for six months following a job offer for the UK company to then obtain its sponsor licence.
It is clear that businesses are confused about their obligations towards migrants. This was evident from recent talks that I have given to international students at our local universities who have complained that, when they are making job applications online, they are prevented to go any further in the application process when declaring that the employer will need to sponsor the student to work in the UK. The employer in such a scenario is opening themselves up to discrimination claims under the Equalities Act.
The employer, on his part, probably wants to avoid the hassle and red tape involved in recruiting a foreign migrant, or to avoid being named and shamed by the UK Border Agency, as has recently happened with Tesco which was fined over £100,000 for failing to have proper systems in place to monitor migrant activity at one of its warehouses.
Businesses find themselves in a Catch-22 situation and, ultimately, the UK economy suffers and our reputation is damaged abroad. There is no point in the Government encouraging UK business to trade internationally if the message is "you are not welcome here".
If the Government cannot go back on its electoral promise, it could take a few small steps in the right direction. This can begin with being honest with the UK electorate about our need for skilled migration, to cut red tape and to give employers certainty of timescales. They should also make it easier for international students to move from studies to work. If someone has made it into the best institutions in the UK, chances are they will be an asset to the UK economy.
Paragon Law presents a seminar on November 21 for HR advisers and business owners on best practice, systems and policies in recruiting migrant workers. Also present will be a representative of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide a presentation on the UK's Shortage Occupation List which the MAC is reviewing, reporting back on their recommendations in January 2013. For more information, e-mail email@example.com