Immigration changes could thwart UK recovery plan

The government's scheme for a new, post-Brexit immigration system could "scupper" PM Boris Johnson's plan to rebuild Britain in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

UK visa on a passport
The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) says that end of free movement and "major flaws" in the points-based immigration system due to come into force next year could undermine Mr Johnson's multi-billion plan unveiled this week to “deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure for Britain”.

Skilled professionals needed in Great Britain

Although APSCo describes the prime minister's ambitions as laudable, the organisation also warns that the current arrangements for training the British workforce will not be sufficient to produce the high skills needed for the future.Tania Bowers, head of public affairs at APSCo, said Mr Johnson's pledge to fund a recovery plan based on “build, build, build" was a positive message and represented a stimulus policy the association supported."But we need skilled professionals to deliver on the prime minister’s ambitious infrastructure programme," she added. "Spades in the ground, as the PM puts it, is only one element of an infrastructure programme – it also needs engineers, technical designers, project managers and technologists – skills that have in recent years been thin on the ground in the UK.

No visa route for independent professionals

“The government’s post-Brexit Immigration Bill has no visa route for independent professionals – this is a crucial point because with skills shortage across many high skilled sectors, such as engineering, technology and construction, we need an immigration system that recognises that the UK’s ability to deliver on its recovery pivots on access to skills and a flexible workforce.”Ms Bowers said that, until now, freedom of movement had allowed independent professionals from the EU to work in skill short sectors to support British businesses and operate with complete flexibility and 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 need a permanent employee for. The lack of any dedicated visa route for these highly skilled professionals is a real concern.”

Businesses can’t use their Apprenticeship Levy pots to fund training

Ms Bowers also said APSCo remained concern about major problems surrounding the Apprenticeship Levy, which is intended to lift the skills of the UK's younger generation.“Despite millions of people on furlough or out of work and looking for new employment opportunities, businesses can’t use their Apprenticeship Levy pots to fund training for these individuals," she said.“The government needs to look urgently at proposals to broaden the use of the Apprenticeship Levy and to ring-fence monies in levy pots for use in national training programmes.“Providing a jobs guarantee for every young person in an apprenticeship or an in-work placement is a laudable promise, but simply creating an entry level workforce is not the answer – we must target technical training in skills shortage occupations and address the need for highly skilled professionals so that we can both nurture and retain great talent to help deliver these major infrastructure programmes.” 

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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