Will the government listen to business on EEA migration?

 In news, updates

There are clear signs that the government is open to trying to minimise the impact of a restrictive policy, as Natasha Hotson reports

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is a public body that offers independent advice to the government on migration issues; its remit is to protect the UK labour market. In its role, the MAC has engaged in a consultation process and is taking the views of business and individual employers very seriously. Business should engage in the consultation and continue to lobby the government to seek the concessions needed.

In March, the MAC published an update to showcase the opinions of UK business and employers across industry sectors about the need for EEA migration and the impact on the workforce that a more restrictive migration policy could have if introduced.

The overwhelming view across sectors was that EEA migration was essential to address skills shortages in the UK. In a welcome change from the DIY-employer approach of its Review of Tier 2 report of December 2015, the MAC indicated that skills shortages should not fall solely on individual employers and they would likely need government support.

Many employers also took the view that EEA workers were more motivated and flexible than UK workers, were more prepared to work anti-social hours and were often better qualified. Analysis on absenteeism uncovered that on average EEA workers report up to 40 per cent lower rates of absence than UK-born workers, even when factoring in differences in age, industry and occupation.

Is Tier 2 fit for purpose?

Businesses also registered deep concerns regarding the costliness and complexity of the existing Tier 2 system for sponsoring non-EEA skilled workers. A range of sectors felt that Tier 2 did not take account of their requirements and wanted a system that paid regard to training, experience and the social value of work more than qualifications or salary.

Several employers requested that specific jobs were added to the shortage occupation list and suggested that it be regularly updated to meet changing business needs.

Businesses were also concerned about the Tier 2 cap of 20,700 jobs a year, which applies to non-EEA national skilled workers coming to the UK from overseas to fill roles that pay less than £159,600 a year. Certificates for roles under the cap are allocated once a month via a Home Office panel. The cap, however, has been exceeded since December 2017, halting recruitment for the last five months. If EEA migrants’ roles were also capped in line with the present system, this would clearly have disastrous consequences for business.

What will the post-transition system look like?

Post-Brexit transition, the government may extend the shortage occupation list, which is currently limited in scope, or remove shortage occupations from the cap altogether. It could also tweak skilled jobs or expand the definition to include ‘soft-skilled roles’. For example, lobbying from the National Farmers’ Union and the agricultural and horticultural industries may result in the reintroduction of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme.

There may be a revamped Tier 5 youth mobility visa (currently open to 18 to 30-year-olds from a small number of nationalities for a two-year period), which could result in an equivalent visa of longer duration and broader age limits for lower-skilled European nationals. However, if the sharp reduction in net migration from the EU continues, a temporary working holiday-style visa is unlikely to draw in workers who would like the option of improving their career prospects in the UK and of obtaining permanent residence.

Natasha Hotson is a senior associate at Lewis Silkin

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