UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has hinted that a post-Brexit, UK visa for ‘skilled EU workers’ will be made available to continue attracting the top talent needed by Britain’s digital industry. In a written statement published in the Financial Times, Rudd said: “The UK must remain a hub for international talent.”
She added that it’s crucial for Britain to continue attracting the ‘brightest and best migrants from around the world’. Whether Rudd’s statement can be interpreted as a potential overhaul of the UK’s current Tier 2 visa system, remains to be seen. However, businesses are ‘cautiously optimistic’ following Rudd’s comments.
The Home Secretary stated that British businesses should not be in in fear of a ‘cliff edge’. However, she did reiterate that public concern over unrestricted UK immigration has to be taken into account.
To address public concerns, Rudd revealed that the government is ‘aiming to create an environment that works towards achieving sustainable levels of net migration while continuing to welcome foreign nationals with the skills that British industries rely on.’
Rudd is listening to business leaders on skilled UK visas
Rudd moved to reassure business leaders that their concerns are being heard over a potential lack of skilled labour in the post-Brexit era. In a statement addressing Britain’s business community, the Home Secretary said that ‘all those that have outlined their views, either publicly or privately, the government is listening.’
The Home Secretary went on to state that she shares the business community’s vision of continually working to make the UK a prosperous country in which to live. However, she said that an accurate picture is needed of how much the UK economy relies on EU labour.
Rudd’s comments come as the Home Secretary looks to piece together an industrial strategy that tackles the long-term challenges to the UK economy, once Britain exits the European Union.
The influence of the Migration Advisory Committee
Amid promises of a UK visa for ‘skilled immigration’ talent post-Brexit, Rudd has commissioned the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) – a so-called independent body – to carry out a major study into the contribution made by European Union citizens to the UK economy.
Speaking at a public event in Scotland, Amber Rudd explained that she had asked the MAC to examine the overall role of migration in the wider economy and to determine how UK immigration can operate parallel to the country’s industrial strategy.
Meanwhile, it’s understood that the government will continue to meet with business leaders and employers, during the MAC’s assessment, to hear their views and needs first-hand.
According to Rudd, these meetings, plus the work of the MAC, will enable the government to execute a future UK immigration strategy that enables the country to take control of immigrant numbers, while working in the best interests of every part of the UK.
MAC report will not be published until 2018
However, critics were quick to point out that the MAC report won’t be made available until September 2018, just six months before the Brexit deadline. Critics argue that the report will be delivered ‘too late in the day’ to have any meaningful impact.
Nevertheless, the UK tech industry’s trade association, techUK took a ‘better late than never’ stance. Deputy CEO, Anthony Walker, remarked: “This study has been a long time coming, but could not be more important. Recent research already shows a 10% dip in the number of EU job applicants across the tech industry.”
Walker claims that Brexit is already ‘shaping the future of recruitment’, which will affect Britain’s ability to compete globally. He said that the MAC will play a critical role in determining the economic outlook of the UK, post-Brexit. If a decision is taken to restrict access to international talent, Britain’s economic future looks bleak, according to Walker.
Overly focusing on immigrant numbers will not help UK economy
The tech sector in Britain is currently creating jobs faster than they can be filled, Walker claims. He said: “For every ten high skilled roles, the sector creates four more jobs elsewhere in the economy.”
The techUK deputy CEO said that the industry’s ability to generate jobs for the future is linked to its accessibility to the brightest and best talent from across the EU and the world. Overly focusing on immigrant numbers in Britain is of no help to the economy nor the country’s tech sector, according to Walker.
In a somewhat bizarre analogy, Walker said: “We would not instruct factories on how many tractors to manufacture a year, and so the MAC report should not aim to put a number on talented and skilled people entering Britain.
In Walker’s view, the government’s manifesto undoubtedly views the digital economy as a ‘strategically important sector.’ He believes that the MAC’s analysis of UK immigration is an opportunity to prove that the government’s commitment to the UK tech sector is ‘not just skin deep. A flexible, accessible EU immigration system is needed post-Brexit.’
New UK visa system unlikely before Brexit
In developments elsewhere, a recent report published by independent think tank, Institute for Government (IfG), warned that any new immigration system is unlikely to be ready prior to the UK’s formal exit from the EU. Consequently, the UK government will be left with little choice but to support the free movement of people for several years after Brexit.
Brexit Programme Director at the IfG, Jill Rutter, said: “The political urgency for an overhaul of immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge. The scale of the task – creating a new immigration system – is huge and it is critical that the government gets it right.”
According to Rutter, the existing process for dealing with permanent residence applications from EU nationals is ‘not fit for purpose’, a verdict the government itself has acknowledged. Rutter has urged that it be streamlined as a matter of priority, and to mark the first step towards a new post-Brexit system.
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