The body that advises the government on immigration issues has warned it against opening up new UK visa routes unless there is ‘strong economic rationale’, despite worker shortages.
In its 2022 annual report, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) says that the government should resist calls to provide low-wage visa routes, which it believes would “in effect undo the end of freedom of movement (FoM) on a sectoral basis”, as it is not confident that the government could prevent the expolitation of migrant workers whose right to work in the UK ties them to low-paid jobs.
It says that the lack of joined-up thinking across the government, in cooperation with the private sector, on how to address worker shortages is disappointing.
Immigration and right to work
It notes that there is no coherent strategy to ensure the economy has the skills it needs, and for employers to improve pay and conditions and automate where appropriate.
Labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics today showed that the total number of job openings remained at historically high levels in April to October 2022.
The MAC annual report for 2022 also highlights the high level of influence the government has over worker training and supply in some sectors. For example, it is the main funding provider and regulator for the training of doctors and nurses, yet the number of people being trained domestically to carry out these rolescis insufficient, resulting in the skilled worker (SW) visa route largely being used by the healthcare sector to fill vacancies from overseas.
It concludes that high levels of recruitment from overseas is a result of the government’s failure to improve training, pay, conditions and retention in skilled roles.
The report says: “Immigration policy can at best only offer partial solutions to these problems, as a stopgap, with policy levers over the SW route in particular only accounting for a small proportion of those entering the UK in any given year.
“A sustainable long-term policy to address shortages must tackle the root causes of those shortages, rather than simply sourcing alternative labour to fill them.”
The MAC finds that:
- net migration rose significantly in the year to June 2022, to 504,000 (331,000 in 2021). This is the highest figure since records began and was mainly driven by the new Hong Kong British national (overseas) route and the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, as well as a rebound in worker and student visas after the pandemic and the NHS’s use of the SW visa route
- EEA nationals make up just 7% of cumulative total SW route applications
- the health and social care sector makes up 45% of applications for SW visas, while the IT and professional, and scientific and technical sectors each account for around 10% of visa applications
- in the year ending June 2022 the main applicants to the SW and Health and Care Worker routes accounted for
around 100,000 of the 222,000 individuals granted a UK worker visa.
It says that its review of the shortage occupation list is still on hold pending clarification from the government on migration policy, and it is pressing the government to reach a decision on this as soon as possible.
In October the prime minister’s official spokesperson said he would seek to revive targets to reduce overall migration. However, the MAC’s report warns the government against becoming too focused on numbers.