The immigration cap does not fit

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The immigration cap does not fit


Today the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report into immigration and skills shortages. The inquiry looked into the immigration of the Government’s immigration cap (which restricts the number of non-EEA workers coming into the UK to 20,700 per year, split into monthly caps). As we blogged on previously the monthly cap has been hit this year on many occasions and the Committee sought to explore what impact that was having.


What did the Committee say?


Well I think it’s well summed up by the Committee Chairman Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP:

* The government's immigration cap does not fit, it may even be counter-productive. It is having no effect on bringing down net migration....Yet it blocks the recruitment of vitally needed skills required by individual employers and the economy as a whole. When the monthly allocation is used up, employers are left with a stark choice between a nurse or an engineer. Britain must be open for business, to achieve this we need skilled workers. *


With the government trying to bulldoze through further changes to immigration policy that will hinder businesses ability to recruit from outside of Europe, it is good to see the Home Affairs Select Committee taking a more common-sense approach.


Recruiting from outside of Europe and training the domestic workforce: it’s not an either/or


The Committee’s report highlights that one of the stated aims of the cap is to incentive domestic retaining and recruitment, in business and public services. However, the evidence should that UK business that recruit skilled foreign workers, do train their own workforces. This is a point EEF really pushed on. Manufacturers are absolutely investing in, and training their existing and future workforces, as seen on the chart below.



But we aren’t always replacing like for like. An engineering apprentice starting their training today unfortunately cannot fill the position of a mechanical engineer with 30 years’ experience who is now retiring.  Yes apprentices and graduates are used to meet the skills needs of the future and for succession planning but with four in five manufacturers struggling to recruit right now.  Employers must always be able to recruit the best person for the job from across the globe.


What’s more, many employers bring over workers from outside of Europe to train UK employees! A manufacturers told me just recently they had bought a piece of equipment from outside of Europe which only non-EEA employees could use. So the plan was to recruit a non-EEA employee to accompany the new piece of machinery to then train UK employees. Yet, the employer was struggling to bring them over. Now that is not common sense.


Global companies need to move employees….globally


Then there is the potential threat of government trying to restrict the Intra-Company Transfer route. Restricting businesses from moving people from a site in Singapore to a site in London (for example) is just absurd.


Many manufacturers are global companies where there is an expectation that they can move people freely across the world. Some companies have told me that graduates can’t move onto senior, or even junior, manager level, unless they have global experience….but the government’s proposals for ICTs could prohibit this.


SMEs find it the most difficult navigating through our complex immigration system


Small and medium sized manufacturers are less likely to recruit non-EEA employees. This is not because they can easily recruit from within the UK (far from it) some daren’t touch the UK’s immigration system. It’s complex, time-consuming and pretty costly. Government’s proposals to increase salary threshold and introduce a skills surcharge (new name now they’ve announced an apprenticeship levy) will disproportionately impact SMEs. They will be the ones that cannot absorb the additional costs. So will they just recruit apprentices? NOOO! Well, yes they will continue to recruit apprentices, but it will mean that that position for a Chemical Engineer, for example, which just be left vacant.


And we can’t not mention students


While the Committee’s inquiry didn’t set out to look at international students, we can’t not talk about them, and neither did the Committee.


Non-EEA students can come to the UK, study engineering, contribute to the economy….but then they have just four months to secure their job, get their visas, ensure their new employer has a sponsorship licence…or risk being turfed out. This is a very short space of time for what can be an extremely burdensome process as we have found:




So what’s the solution? The Committee agrees with its predecessor Committee that something needs to be done, in particular taking into account the need for some form of post-study work route, particularly focusing on non-EEA graduates that have studied STEM subjects.


It’s great to see that the Committee has listened to industry, education and others and used the evidence to provide some common sense, concrete recommendations. Let’s just hope Government will listen too.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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