HR fury over ‘political’ move to restrict migrant workers

New legislation to force employers to advertise skilled vacancies at Jobcentre Plus for two weeks before recruiting non-EU workers has caused outrage across the HR profession.

Leading HR directors have warned the move, expected to come into law on 1 April, is purely “political” to ease taxpayers concerns about rising unemployment, but will only serve to add extra delay and bureaucracy to any recruitment that does occur during the recession.

Technology firm Trafficmaster said the reason it recruits outside the EU is to fill a severe skills gap. HR director Mark Hutchings told Personnel Today: “In the technology sector we are still desperately looking for good-quality skilled engineers and people who’ve done a mathematics or physics degree. But we don’t get enough UK candidates with that level of qualification.”

“It’s a political move a demonstration by the government that all skilled jobs will be advertised by the government. But in the end, a lot of the jobs market is tied up with [private] agencies so we won’t be looking at job centres.”

Paul Moody, head of HR and performance at Castle Morpeth Borough Council, Northumberland, warned that as skilled workers do not sign up with JobCentre Plus it would be a “waste of time” looking there.

“Going to Jobcentre Plus would not work for us because skilled workers are going elsewhere if they are actively seeking work. We target those workers through the relevant trade magazines they’ll be looking at.”

He added that the move would cause trouble in the social care profession, renowned for recruiting non-EU workers to fill roles that UK staff are not prepared to do.

“It’s going to delay the process and could affect the delivery of services,” he said.

Ian Johnston, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers agreed.

“This new regulation is designed to impress the voters, not actually solve the problem. It could cause recruitment delays and will limit the scope for authorities to go out and headhunt people in different countries.”

Amit Kapadia, executive director of the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Forum, a not-for-profit organisation, said: “The fact the home secretary seems to think a Jobcentre Plus is a place where a company in need of graduate-level professionals would think to advertise – instead of the more appropriate trade publications – shows just how far out of touch the government is with businesses and workers contributing to the commercial success of Britain.”

However, some employers were more optimistic. Jan Marshall, HR director at Marriott Hotels said organisations would be surprised at the talent pool available at Jobcentre Plus.

“There are a lot of people on the market now so if you have a job you should definitely look there. [The new regulations] will ensure that we have looked at the people available first before bringing non-EU staff in.”

The UK Border Agency said the new system would help protect jobs for UK-based workers: “We have worked with Jobcentre Plus during the development of this policy,” a spokeswoman said.

Additional reporting: Guy Logan, Louisa Peacock

14-day detention

The government announced this week that from 1 April all skilled jobs classified as Tier 2 under the points-based system will have to be advertised in a jobcentre for 14 days before a search for non-EU candidates can take place. The law will protect opportunities for UK workers, according to home secretary Jacqui Smith, which will help ease the row over ‘British jobs for British workers’. The legislation will also bring in tougher controls for recruiting highly skilled migrant workers under Tier 1 from outside the EU.

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