The channel has suffered for years from skills shortages that reduce capacity for growth and undermine the shift towards emerging technologies.
To complicate matters, the government's Migration Advisory Committee has reported on business sectors where there are skills shortages and left IT off the list.
It now looks as if the doors to workers coming from abroad are going to be a lot harder to open. This is because the biggest revision of the UK immigration system in nearly 50 years is taking effect from the end of next month, aimed at curtailing immigration from outside the European Economic Area.
The points-based system will be introduced in stages during the rest of this year and 2009. With a points hurdle set at 70, immigrants have to earn the right to enter the UK by scoring points for various skills, qualifications and prospective earnings. If the recommendations are accepted, applicants from those occupations will get a 50-point boost. Others will have to work much harder.
November 2008 will see the activation of tiers 2 and 5 of the new system. But what does it all mean for you and your business in practice? Which tiers are coming into force in November?
Tiers 2 and 5 will be implemented. Tier 2 covers skilled workers with a job offer to fill gaps within the UK labour force. For these recruits, sponsorship will be required. This tier has four sub-categories: general, ministers of religion, sports people and inter-company transfers.
Tier 5 covers youth mobility and temporary workers allowed to stay in the UK for a limited period of time to satisfy mainly non-economic objectives. Again, sponsorship will be required. There are five sub-categories: temporary workers, creative and sporting; temporary workers, charity; temporary workers, religious; temporary workers, international agreement; and youth mobility.
Which workers will be affected?
The new points-based system will affect those workers entering from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
What about foreign workers currently in the UK?
Those workers already in the UK who wish to apply to extend their leave to remain in the UK will have to meet the requirements of the immigration rules that are in force at the time of their application.
If the worker applies for an extension following the implementation of tiers 2 and 5, they will have to meet the requirements under those tiers, even if in possession of a valid work permit under the pre-November 2008 system.
What will happen to applications made during the transition from the old to the new system?
Until the introduction of tiers 2 and 5, the immigration work permit system will apply to any applications made. Applications will not have to comply with the requirements laid down by tiers 2 and 5. If the applications are successful they will be valid for six months. Any permits that expire and are to be extended following the introduction of the new tiers will have to comply with the new specific tier requirements.
How will this affect new workers wishing to enter the country?
For workers to be eligible to enter the UK under tiers 2 or 5 they must be sponsored before entry by an organisation licensed by the UK Border Agency. Sponsorship does not automatically guarantee entry; workers must meet other conditions, which will vary depending on the tier and sub category under which they apply to enter the country.
How do you become a sponsor?
Organisations can apply to the UK Border Agency for a licence to issue certificates of sponsorship for tiers 2 and 5, if they meet the requirements laid down by the UK Border Agency. They must be a legitimate UK organisation, trustworthy, dependable, with good past employment history and pose no threat to immigration. They must also be able to meet their sponsorship duties.
Each of these requirements will be assessed by the agency, which will carry out extensive checks and searches. As a result of the inspection the company will be awarded a score based on its level of compliance with the agency's requirements.
There will be limits on the number of sponsorship certificates organisations will be able to issue to workers, and the agency can withdraw or downgrade any organisations registered as sponsors for abuse or failure to meet duties.
Companies are required to submit their own applications to become sponsors. Legal representatives cannot submit the form on their behalf.
What does it cost to become a licensed sponsor?
Applying for the first time to become a licensed sponsor will cost from £300 to £1,000 depending upon the number of tiers the organisation wishes to become a licensed sponsor for and also depending on the type of organisation.
For each tier 2 certificate of sponsorship that is issued the organisation will be required to pay £170 and £10 for each tier 5 certificate.
Will employers have new duties?
The Home Office believes that those who benefit from migrant workers should play a part in ensuring the system is not subject to abuse and misuse. Further, the Home Office wants to ensure that those who apply for entry into the UK are eligible, that a reputable employer wants to employ them and that there is a genuine need within the UK job market for the workers. Companies that become licensed sponsors will be required to comply with a number of duties, from complying with applicable and relevant law to co-operating with the UK Border Agency as well as general housekeeping duties.
One example of the obligations is the requirement to inform the Agency if the worker fails to turn up to work, or is absent for a significant period of time. Organisations must also ensure they keep records of any migrant workers they employ.
Will the new system require the business to make changes?
As a result of becoming a licensed sponsor, organisations must create a 'key personnel' structure. This means changes to internal procedures as certain responsibilities must be allocated within the organisation. These responsibilities can be allocated to one individual or to separate individuals Your organisation will need:
- Authorising officer: Responsible for ensuring the organisation meets the duties imposed on sponsors; also responsible for all the other key personnel. It is essential they are senior, competent and responsible.
- Level 1 user: Responsible for day-to-day activities - for example, the assignment of certificates and reporting migrants' activities.
- Level 2 user: Responsible to a lesser extent for day-to-day activities, with limited responsibilities.
- Key contact: Point of contact between the organisation and the UK Border Agency.
How long will it take for applications to be processed?
Until 1 April 2009, the estimated time scale for dealing with applications to become a licensed sponsor and also for dealing with the worker's application will be six weeks for each. After 1st April 2009 the period for processing the licensed sponsorship or worker's applications will be four weeks.
Will there be penalties for breach of the rules?
Running in parallel to the sponsorship system will be a penalty system. This will include criminal offences and civil penalties, which will reinforce the immigration system. Compliance with the new system is essential if companies are to avoid the revocation or downgrading of their sponsorship licenses, hefty fines and even imprisonment of anyone in breach of these rules.
What are the expected benefits of the new immigration scheme?
It is expected that the new scheme will be much clearer and more logical than the current system. The application for the registration of certificate sponsors can now be done online and will be less time consuming with hopefully fewer delays.
The aim is to make it easier and quicker for companies to bring workers into the UK, whilst ensuring the system is effective and efficient.