New visa needed 'to attract independent professionals'

The UK government is facing calls to amend its post-Brexit immigration plans by including a dedicated visa route for independent professionals who want to come to Britain but do not have a pre-existing job offer.

Following the second reading in parliament this week of the legislation paving the way for a points-based immigration system at the start of 2021, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) said the absence of a defined route for these professionals - also known as self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) - could "really impact access to skilled talent" after freedom of movement from the European Union ends on December 31.Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public affairs at APSCo, said that while the government's oft-stated aim was to attract "the brightest and the best" to Britain, the absence of a dedicated visa for independent professionals could have the opposite effect."It is no secret that there are skills shortage across many high skilled sectors such as engineering, technology, construction and life sciences," she said."Consequently, we need to have an immigration system that recognises that the UK’s ability to attract world-class brands to do business here – and promote its strengths when negotiating trade deals after Brexit - pivots on access to skills and a flexible workforce.”Ms Bowers said the existing freedom of movement arrangements had allowed independent professionals from the EU to work in skill-short sectors and operate with complete flexibility, without being bound to one specific role."They often work on medium- to long-term projects which have a beginning and an end – projects that the employer does not want or need a full-time permanent employee for and yet, at present, professional self-employment is not even recognised by the Office for National Statistics. This is reflected in policy makers’ attitudes, which is why there is no dedicated visa route for independent professionals," she said."It is our belief that this will really impact access to skilled talent as it will deter many from wanting or being able to work here."Ms Bowers pointed out that, from January 1, these professionals would need sponsorship by an employer under the Tier 2 general visa scheme "and that means we are losing access to a whole segment of the international labour market".She said the new Innovator and Start-Up Visas were "positive steps" but not suited for most independent professionals.“The government white paper published earlier this year stated that they will consult on a highly skilled visa which would not require a job offer and this is more genuinely akin to the Australian points system and would fulfil our criteria for a highly skilled self-employed visa," she added.“We urge government to expedite this consultation. Secondly, we ask that they broaden the scope of the Start-Up Visa and lastly, consider whether umbrella companies and recruiters should be able to register as an employer to secure Tier 2 visas for agency workers.“We have been in touch with the Home Office so that we can be involved in the consultation on the highly skilled visa as well as continuing to lobby though our programme of MP meetings.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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