UK firms’ ability to attract ‘brightest and best’ in doubt

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New figures show that the number of UK businesses applying for permission to employ skilled overseas workers has remained static since the start of the year.

The latest figures, released figures released by the Home Office today (21 September), show 29,514 enterprises are registered to sponsor applicants on Tier 2 visas – the main immigration route for working in the UK for skilled workers with a job offer.

Visa sponsorship by an employer is required and the visa is linked to a specific job. At the start of the year the figure stood at 28,734. House of Commons business statistics show there are 1.4 million private sector employers in the UK, which means only 2% are in a position to employ new arrivals from next year.

There have also been 3,955 registrations for a Tier 5 sponsor licence for temporary workers.

The figures suggest that thousands of employers planning to take advantage of the global skills pool to lure the “brightest and the best”, as the government often puts it, will be caught out when the UK leaves the EU on 1 January 2021. From next year, all businesses that employ migrant workers will have to be Home Office-approved. Previously, under free movement principles, firms employing EU workers have not had to register.

Research by immigration specialist A Y & J Solicitors show that there has only been a tiny rise in the numbers registered to become official Home Office visa sponsors, despite the imminent changes.

Director Yash Dubal, said: “The messages encouraging businesses to apply for sponsorship to make the most of the global skills pool appears to have fallen on deaf ears. These figures show a negligible rise in percentage terms. I fear the result will either be an influx of new applications in the last months of the year, which the Home Office could struggle to process, or many businesses that will find themselves unable to employ the calibre of international worker they require because they haven’t got the correct paperwork.”

Chetal Patel, partner in the immigration department at Bates Wells, said: “We haven’t seen the massive surge in sponsor licence applications that we had originally anticipated.

“The Home Office doesn’t want to create a panic if businesses don’t need a sponsor licence but equally they want to avoid a position where businesses aren’t ready for our new immigration system. In the coming months, we can expect more glossy brochures with catch phrases like the application process being simple and straightforward so one would expect a rise in applications.

“The sponsorship process can be cumbersome for organisations. It’s not just a tick box exercise of submitting a sponsor licence application but organisations need to have systems in place to comply with their duties.

“Sponsorship is expensive and more and more clients are considering how to frame the level of support that they provide to sponsored workers with their visa applications. Organisations are having to consider their recruitment budgets for the coming new year and this has been a sensitive matter for some, particularly where businesses have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.”

She added that Bates Wells had seen an increase in instructions for assisting with new sponsor licence applications, particularly where organisations were heavily reliant on a European workforce. Some organisations, she said, had been waiting for more information to be released by the Home Office about when they would start accepting applications under the new immigration system. Once this happened, she added, more sponsor licence applications might be submitted.

The situation is very similar to that in May when Personnel Today last reported on it. Then, Migrate UK managing director Jonathan Beech, said: “With Covid-19 causing significant disruption to business and many directors focused on the here and now, it’s easy to forget Brexit. But for organisations that rely on overseas talent or face skill shortages, it’s imperative to start applying for a licence now, especially with the anticipated sheer volume of applications. If not, businesses may unwittingly miss out on the talent pool and EU workers are already choosing potential employers based on whether they hold a licence or not.”

“This is not only worrying for the future of individual UK organisations having the talent in place to thrive and grow the other side of the current pandemic, but for the future of skills in the UK as a whole.”

Last week, immigration expert and founder of Sanwar Ali wrote of the new regulations on his website that they meant among the outcomes of the changes were “that EU citizens will have to deal with the same restrictive, expensive and confusing immigration rules and procedures as non-EU citizens. In this case equality means fewer rights for more people”.

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