Businesses urge easing of UK visa rules

One of the UK's largest business organisations is calling on the Government to make it easier for industries facing chronic staff shortages to get visas for overseas workers.

Picture of person waiting with suitcase and passport in hand
At a time when the UK has more vacancies than people registered as unemployed, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has written to ministers setting out a three-point action plan, which the organisation maintains is necessary to overcome the "huge number" of unfilled vacancies.
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'Recruitment difficulties at record highs'

One of the three proposals is for the "urgent" reform of the Shortage Occupation List – the Government register that makes it easier for specific professions and skills from abroad to obtain UK visas.Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the BCC, said, "The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) must be reformed to allow sectors facing urgent demand for skills to get what they need.“The SOL is not currently fit for purpose and should be more flexible, so it supports firms experiencing a national recruitment crisis. Recruitment difficulties have been at record highs for a year."There are 1.3 million unfilled jobs in our economy and now fewer people in the workforce than before the pandemic. This is holding back productivity and growth, and employers are at their wits’ end. It is putting livelihoods at risk and damaging the economy.“The Government must reform the SOL criteria to include more jobs at more skill levels to give firms breathing space to invest in their workforce."

More training and investment 

The two other proposals being put to Government are:
  1. for policies to encourage firms to find new ways of unlocking pools of talent – by investing more in training their workforce, adopting more flexible working practices and expanding use of apprenticeships
  2. for Government help to enable employers to invest in staff training by reducing upfront costs and by providing training-related tax breaks.
BCC made the call to ministers after its latest Recruitment Outlook survey of more than 5,700 businesses showed firms' problems finding the right staff had remained at record high levels.  More than three-quarters of firms (76 per cent) reported recruitment difficulties, with construction, production and manufacturing, logistics, and hospitality worst affected, although the report added: "All sectors have significant issues."The survey also found that, in the face of rising business costs, only 28 per cent had increased investments over the past three months, the figure falling to only 19 per cent among smaller firms.

Impact on output and wellbeing

Ms Gratton added: "Businesses remain under huge pressure to fill jobs, but record levels of recruitment difficulty are showing no signs of improvement. Solutions are urgently needed, so that firms can keep their doors open throughout these tough times."Employers cannot wait for a new prime minister (to replace the recently-resigned Boris Johnson) before this is sorted. Shortages are impacting not only on their ability to service order books but also on the morale and wellbeing of their people.“The economic challenge we are facing is huge and unless we start to fill the hole caused by 1.3 million vacancies, we cannot get back to growth.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted, July articles.

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