Tier 2 visa dependants should retain UK right to work says report

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In response to the Migration Advisory Committee's review of tier 2 immigration, a survey carried out by the Permits Foundation showed overwhelming support for the right of partners of highly skilled workers from outside the European Union to be able to work in the UK.

As an independent, non-profit organisation, the Permits Foundation campaigns worldwide to try and make sure that partners of skilled immigrants are allowed to work when they go abroad with their partner. Currently in the UK the spouse or partner of a tier 2 visa holder can work in the UK.

On October 7, the foundation hosted an international press conference at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) headquarters in London, where the findings of their survey – 'The Impact of Removing the Unrestricted Right of Dependants to Work in the UK' - were unveiled to international delegates.

Tier 2 Survey has more than a thousand participants

The report is based on the responses of 1063 participants, employed by over 130 organisations across numerous industry sectors, plus universities and research facilities. 540 participants [just over 50%], in the UK on a tier 2 visa, had partners that are also employed in the UK.

A high percentage of respondents (77 per cent) stated that if their partner did not have the right to work in Britain, they would have been unlikely to accept their current job role. Additionally, nearly all of the main tier 2 visa holders said that having a partner working in the UK too, helped them adjust to life in the UK as well as having a positive impact on family relationships and their health and wellbeing.

Current tier 2 visa laws concerning dependants

Current UK immigration laws allow the dependants of tier 2 visa holders to work in the UK. In June 2015, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was commissioned by UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, to carry out a review of the tier 2 visa system. This included an assessment of how removing the right to work for partners would impact government plans to reduce immigration levels.

In response to the MAC review – alongside lobbying for the right to be retained – the Permits Foundation conducted the survey of employees with a tier 2 visa, and their partners, compiling data and recording opinions to provide to the MAC regarding the economic and social impacts of withdrawing the right of tier 2 dependants to work in the UK.

Findings of the survey

The survey revealed that dependants of the main tier 2 visa holders were also highly qualified, with 80 per cent of them employed in a professional capacity and 96 per cent of them holding a bachelor's degree or higher.

The figures are in contrast to the UK population as a whole, with data from an Office for National Statistics report – 'Graduates in the UK Labour Market, 2013' – showing that only 38 per cent of people active in Britain's labour market are graduates.

Based on the results of the survey, the Permits Foundation was able to create employee and partner profiles:

Employee profile

  • Almost 48% of the employees in the survey were on intra-company transfer (ICT) for more than 12 months; 37% had a Tier 2 General visa after their employer had completed a Resident Labour Market Test; nearly 12% of Tier 2 General visa holders were in a shortage occupation and so no Resident Labour Market Test was required to employ them.

  • Less than 2% were on short-term Tier 2 ICTs for less than 12 months.

Spouse/partner profile

  • 71% are female; 29% are male.

  • 61% are between the ages of 25-34, more than double the next largest group (27%) - aged 35-44 years.

  • 96% have a bachelor's degree or higher.

  • Of those who are working, 80% are in professional or managerial level jobs.

  • 82% of those working are in full time employment and 18% in part time, temporary or project work.

  • 9% are self-employed.

Additional comments were made by several hundred people participating in the survey, with many expressing their concerns for their partners' careers and emotional wellbeing if left without the opportunity to work. Others feared the problems a family would face to meet the cost of living in the UK if there was just one income.

Many survey participants were especially vocal about the UK's ability to attract top global talent if there was a restriction on the right to work in place for partners, saying it would be a 'serious obstacle and would ultimately impact the country's economy.'

The Permits Foundation says that 'just because a dependant has permission to find employment in the UK, it does not give them a job.' They said that partners of tier 2 visa holders are still in competition with other candidates to secure employment and if they do, surely that illustrates that they're the best person for the job and beneficial to the economy.'

Concluding their findings, the Permits Foundation also said that removing the right of dependants to work in the UK would have a minimal impact on reducing overall net migration. According to the Foundation, only a minority of tier 2 visa holders have their family members accompany them to the UK, plus, not every partner is in employment.

It should be noted that participants in the Permits Foundation survey are more likely to have a partner with them than the average tier 2 visa holder. In addition Tier 2 visa holders and dependents only represent a relatively small proportion of overall immigration into the UK. Therefore it is not easy to see that adding restrictions on partners' ability to work and so putting off some people from coming to the UK in the first place will not make much difference to the net migration figures.

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