Migrant Workers - Does the Government Really Want Them?

05 November 2016
In recent times the Government has given rather mixed signals about non-EEA migrant workers. It is clearly evident that conditions and requirements for such workers have become progressively more difficult and onerous over the last few years.

Some working visa categories (eg Tier 1 General, Tier 1 Post-Study Work, Au Pairs) have been abolished altogether. One visa category (Tier 3 low-skilled) did not actually come into existence. And requirements for other visa categories have become tougher and tougher.

A few years ago skilled workers could apply for a Work Permit visa. This was a fairly simple scheme whereby a skilled worker could apply for a visa to work for a specified UK employer in a specified skilled job. In 2009 this system was replaced with the remarkably complicated Tier 2 Skilled Worker scheme. This scheme incorporated a new system of employer sponsorship with all its associated elements: “sponsor management system”, “restricted” and “non-restricted”, “certificates of sponsorship”, “monthly limit” and so on.

Whereas legal practitioners used to be able to rely on a few pages of relatively simple guidance and simple rules from the Home Office about the Work Permit scheme (which the layperson had a reasonable chance of being able to engage with) they nowadays have to cope with formidably large and ever-expanding policy guidance documents and associated rules. The layperson (and indeed some lawyers) who can successfully engage with all this material might need to take a short holiday after having read all of it.

And, as part of the same project, required skill levels for skilled workers were significantly raised and the Government also decided to take steps to limit the possibilities of settlement for Tier 2 workers. This latter subject rang loud alarm bells in some quarters, because traditionally many workers came to the UK in the knowledge and expectation that, if they worked in the UK for a few years and if all requirements were met, they and their families could qualify for settlement and make their future in the UK. If this possibility were withdrawn no doubt many people would think twice about uprooting their lives, homes and families without the prospect of ultimately being able to stay here.

In the event the Government did not go as far with this idea as they might have done: they only removed (and on a transitional basis) the possibility of settlement for Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer migrants, ie migrants who are already employees of an overseas branch of a multinational company and who are sent to the UK to work in the UK branch of the company.

So the picture for non-EEA skilled migrants or would-be migrants has become generally rather darker, but they have been occasionally encouraged by various pronouncements from Government Ministers that the Tier 2 scheme is a good one, because it enables the “best”, most skilled migrants to come to the UK and work in genuinely skilled jobs (unlike other now-abolished schemes which were far less discriminating), and who will earn high or high-ish wages, pay their taxes and thus make a good contribution to UK business, the UK economy and the Exchequer.

So far so good it might appear, although Ministers have sometimes complained that the requirement to import Tier 2 skilled workers indicates that the UK is not producing enough skilled workers of its own, and have indicated that something must be done to improve education and training. But of course the Government (and especially at a time when the UK was emerging from recession) did not want to upset business and commercial interests by denying them the possibility of employing overseas skilled workers if they perceived that they needed them to run and expand their businesses.

But it seems that the Government is still not quite happy about this subject. Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, in a recent speech to the Conservative Party conference, made the interesting suggestion that UK companies should be forced to reveal how many overseas workers they employ. This, she presumably imagines, might act as an incentive for them not employ so many. There must surely be some doubts about this, in some fields at any rate. If one is checking out a Chinese restaurant for its suitability for a special occasion and it emerges that none of the workforce is from outside the EEA it might not seem quite right.

In any event her remarks caused, variously, hilarity and anger, and she had to defend herself against charges of racism. She said “Isn’t that disgraceful really. The fact is we should be able to have a conversation about immigration” without being accused of racism.

This is quite true, but these type of comments made by Ms Rudd (and other similar comments made by Government Ministers and even Prime Ministers) indicate that the Government would like to somehow tighten things for migrant workers even further.

We will advise our readers of any developments on this subject.


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