Science and engineering sector concerned about UK immigration

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According to an article in Engineering and Technology Magazine (E&T), the science and engineering industry in the UK is concerned that the recent tightening of British immigration laws will make it more difficult for the sector to recruit skilled workers.

The UK recently imposed a number of new restrictions on skilled immigration, including the scrapping of the Tier 1 (General) Visa. The new Tier 1 "Exceptional Talent" visa which is the only independent skilled immigration visa left is almost impossible to obtain. On top of all this the UK has had a cap on skilled immigration for about the last twelve months.

While the Exceptional Talent visa allows scientists and engineers and certain others to come to the UK without a job offer, it only applies to people who are recognized as being top in their field and the visa is limited to only 1,000 visas per year. This means that most highly skilled migrants need to apply for entry to the UK through the Tier 2 visa for skilled workers, which requires sponsorship from a UK employer.

"I think we will make matters worse if we make it harder for employers to recruit from universities around the world," said David Brown, chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). He did however acknowledge that the Government did make some concessions to UK business interests, including exempting Tier 2 Intra-company transfers from the immigration cap.

Brown told E&T that he would like to see extra points awarded for occupations at Chartered Engineer level and for all engineering occupations to be placed on the UK's shortage occupation list.

E&T also spoke with Dr. Tony Whitehead, director of policy and governance at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Dr. Whitehead said that the immigration changes would not help the science and engineering sector fully recover from the global financial crisis of a few years ago.

"Employers are clearly saying that they need more professional engineers and engineering technicians to fill their skills gaps," he said. "Our own research shows that a third of employers find it hard to recruit suitable senior engineers while one in five face difficulties in recruiting suitable graduate engineers.

Stricter student visa requirements could also affect the ability of the UK's science and engineering sector to grow. Many international students choose the UK for its top universities -- Onerous visa requirements put off international students from coming to the UK. This directly affects the ability of UK businesses to recruit the talent they need.

"There will also be a knock on affect on UK businesses who employ foreign students on completion of their degrees in the UK or who benefit from the ideas and knowledge foreign students generate during their time at UK universities," said Hugo Donaldson, of the IET, in an interview with E&T