Businesses voice concerns over new UK visa system

Additional details provided by the UK government this week on how the new immigration system will work have done little to assuage business groups' concerns over certain aspects of the policy.

Priti Patel visits Calais

The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, visits Calais on 12 July 2020 © Number 10 Downing Street via Flickr

The new points-based system, due to come into effect when freedom of movement from the EU ends on January 1, has repeatedly been lauded by ministers as opening up the UK to the "brightest and best" talents from around the world.In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to leave millions of Britons unemployed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have said the immigration changes will open up jobs, previously filled by foreigners, to the indigenous population.

CBI: both overseas and domestic skills needed to drive the economy forward

However, Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said it was a "false choice" to pit overseas skills against investing in the domestic workforce. "Both are needed to drive the economy forward," he said.While the CBI welcomed the latest initiatives to attract overseas students and the highest skilled workers, Mr Hardie said the pandemic had drastically changed the prospects for the labour market from the one anticipated at the start of this year."This is a reminder that (the new immigration system) must be flexible to be fit for the long-term. A regularly reviewed shortage occupations list, with promises of further flexibility will be vital for the effectiveness of the new system," he added.“It’s welcome that government has recognised that the sponsorship process needed to obtain a visa needs to be radically streamlined and simplified. Until these reforms are delivered many SMEs will conclude that it’s a system they can only use in theory, not in practice.”

techUK: concerns that SMEs will not have enough time to adapt to the new immigration system

Julian David, chief executive of the digital trade association techUK, said the latest details showed a commitment to explicitly attract STEM talent and to better use technology to streamline and simplify the system."However, we are concerned that SMEs will not be given enough time to adapt to the new system and that more needs to be done to minimise the costs of the new system for both UK businesses and applicants," he said.Mr David said said that for the UK to remain world-leading in fields such as AI and quantum, it must remain open and attractive to international innovators, investors and the talent that supports that ambition.“The development of a new immigration system provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a system that meets the needs of our dynamic, modern economy whilst also creating a high-level of public trust," he added."This needs to include the ability to support digital tech talent to move around for short-term activities to support their customers and supply-chains."
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British Chambers of Commerce: new system will add costs and bureaucracy for firms

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that, while businesses were investing home-grown talent, many firms would continue to need some roles filled by foreign skills."The new immigration system will mean that thousands more firms will bear additional costs and bureaucracy when the skills they need cannot be found or developed locally. Carrying these new costs could be particularly challenging at a time when many businesses face reduced demand and historic cash flow difficulties as a result of coronavirus," he said.“As the new system is implemented, businesses will need help to become sponsors - and will need to see immigration applications turned around quickly. The government must do everything it can to reduce the cumulative cost of employment, including the costs associated with immigration, to help businesses recover from the pandemic, hire with confidence, and seize future opportunities.”

Institute of Directors: smaller firms may struggle

Edwin Morgan, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the acid test for employers would be the new system actually worked in practice."The commitment to cutting processing times and providing some continuity from the previous system will be welcomed by businesses," he said."Despite this, smaller firms may still struggle to navigate the inevitable administration involved, particularly as they are fighting fires on multiple fronts. It’s crucial government works at pace with business to ensure the system is ready in time, and simple to use."Mr Morgan said that many companies still had concerns about the new system, including the high costs involved."Some sectors and regions may feel that a more bespoke policy would be of benefit, while the route for seasonal agriculture hasn’t been confirmed. It’s also crucial that the system continues to adapt to the economic circumstances, not least via the Shortage Occupation List.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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