High-skilled visa reforms demanded in UK

The UK talent pool in financial services will run dry without a more relaxed immigration system, William Russell, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, has warned.

Stock photo of UK entrance documents
While the government has temporarily eased visa restrictions for lorry drivers and agricultural workers, Mr Russell says longer term reforms are needed if the nation is to attract the professional skills it needs to retain its place as a leading global financial centre.Writing in City AM, he points out that more than 2.3 million people across the UK work in financial and related professional services – two-thirds of them outside of London – and that the sector is vital to the nation's economic recovery."Currently just under 20 per cent of the financial services workforce is international, rising to 42 per cent in Fintech," he writes. "This world-class multinational and multilingual workforce gives Britain an edge over our rivals."In order to protect our competitive advantage, policymakers must ensure that our businesses maintain unrivalled access to the most important source of future growth available: top global talent."But Mr Russell says that businesses continue to struggle with process-related issues since the introduction of the post-Brexit, points-based immigration system, which has made it harder and costlier to "secure the talent we’ve always relied on to keep Britain competitive".He adds: "Last week, the City Corporation, TheCityUK and EY produced a series of recommendations to ensure we stay in front of the pack, including vital reforms to the UK’s immigration system. It included a suite of proposals to attract the best people, and help firms access and export to the high-growth markets of the future."Ministers need to create a new short-term business visa to allow overseas staff to visit and work in the UK. This would streamline the cost and time taken to move people around regional offices under current immigration rules."Remote working has had a transformative impact on international talent. It has opened up new growth opportunities for UK based businesses and the finance industry."We need to ensure we take advantage of these opportunities. This needs to be a public and private partnership between government and industry to keep our pools of talent deep and our economy strong."Last week, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) warned that, while attention was currently focused on a shortage of drivers and agriculture workers, the dearth of talent was also being felt across the highly-skilled workforce.Calling for a specific visa route for independent professionals, Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo, said the arrival of Covid-19 and the ending of free movement from the EU had created "the perfect storm" in the labour market."There is a distinct skills shortage across high skilled areas of work, such as engineering, life sciences, digital and Fintech. However, many within these fields work on projects rather than being bound to one specific role," she said.“To bring about a more highly-skilled and flexible workforce, a specific visa route is needed for such highly-skilled, self-employed project workers from abroad who will be vital to plug the short to medium skills gap as the UK looks to up-skill and re-skill.“The Global Talent Scheme should also be increased to take such roles into account to allow the UK to attract a high-skilled workforce that will positively contribute to the UK building back better from the impact of Covid-19."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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