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Government whitepaper outlines new rules for skilled working visas

Government plans to go forward with a recommendation that the cap for tier 2 skilled working visas be removed

The cap on tier 2 skilled working visas could be lifted, according to a government whitepaper, following recommendations surrounding new migration rules once the UK leaves the EU.

As well as removing the cap on the current tier 2 visa route, the whitepaper recommended making it easier for companies to apply to sponsor skilled workers from overseas.

These plans based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which the report claims the government plans to accept, could mean an increase in the number of IT workers coming into the UK after Brexit.

In his foreword for the whitepaper, home secretary Sajid Javid said any new immigration systems introduced after Brexit will be focused on what an individual can contribute to the UK as opposed to the country he or she is coming from.

“This new system will be focused on those with the skills we need, who bring the most benefit to the UK,” said Javid. “Our new route for skilled workers will enable employers – in both the private and public sectors – to access the talent they need.”

Tier 2 skilled working visas cover workers from outside the European Economic Area and will include those from Europe once the UK leaves the EU.

The UK relies heavily on technology talent from outside the country, and concerns have been raised by the sector about the growing skills gap, which is expected to grow after Brexit – and many EU workers have chosen to leave the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote.

In 2018, the limit for tier 2 visas was reached more quickly than usual, leading to a high number of people being refused skilled working visas, including 3,500 Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) workers between December 2017 and March 2018 alone.

There have been calls to lift the cap on skilled visas before, and previously the government made NHS doctors and nurses exempt from the cap to make more room for other skilled workers, such as those with Stem skills.

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But as well as eliminating the cap on the number of tier 2 skilled visas that can be issued over the course of a year, the whitepaper also suggested lowering the skills threshold for tier 2 visa to include people with “intermediate skills levels” – equivalent to GCSE and above.

Some of these recommendations are to help employers in sectors that have become “reliant on lower-skilled workers” from outside the UK, such as construction and social care, who will need an adjustment period after Brexit in order to avoid skills shortages.

Recognising that many people voted leave in the Brexit referendum because of concerns about migrants coming to the UK, the report said there would still be no dedicated route for unskilled workers to enter the UK, adding that “the end of free movement presents a unique opportunity for us to re-design our immigration system” to prioritise those with the skills the UK needs.

In his opening statement, Javid also emphasised diversity and said the UK should be “proud” of its diversity, and would “continue to foster communities that work for everyone”.

While some people believe a focus on building homegrown talent will help to close the growing Stem skills gap, it will take some time for the impact of initiatives such as the computing curriculum to filter through to the employment level, and the UK still needs tech talent from overseas to support the Stem industries.

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