SMEs worried over post-Brexit immigration plan

The government's proposed, post-Brexit immigration system is causing headaches for UK firms, says the Federation of Small Businesses.

The government's proposed, post-Brexit immigration system is causing headaches for UK firms, says the Federation of Small Businesses.
The bosses of small- and medium-sized firms in the UK are expressing fears over the government's proposed, post-Brexit immigration system... partly because most have never had to use visas in the past to get overseas staff.A survey of more than 1,000 SMEs by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that a quarter of the firms employed at least one foreign worker but, because the vast majority of these were from EU continental nations, visas had never been an issue.

More than 40% of overseas staff in the UK are considered low skilled

The survey also found that 59% of the overseas staff were deemed to possess medium or high skills, with the remainder classified as low skilled.Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, says, “We see the benefits of a points-based model, so long as it’s one that’s easy to use and affordable for small businesses – almost all of which have no experience of using our current immigration system.“Against a backdrop of stifling skills shortages, sluggish economic growth and an ageing population, it’s critical that we get this right, particularly as the timeframes are so short.“It’s important that we see a focus on simplicity and cost control. As things stand, the cost of sponsoring a Tier 2 visa to a small employer can top £3,000. We should be looking to keep that figure below £1,000 to enable firms to invest in jobs and training."
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UK employers want the 'right' skills

The survey also found that a majority of employers regarded a good command of English in a foreign worker to be even more important than his or her skill level.Some 38% of employers said they had struggled to recruit the right staff over the past year, with 42% of these citing a problem in finding the right skills and 35% reporting an unwillingness of UK citizens to work in their sector.The FSB is now calling on the government to amend its latest immigration proposals to include a system for awarding additional points for those planning to work outside London and SE England, and a dedicated social care visa."We should protect access to the skills small firms need to thrive," says Mr Cherry. "We know that small employers rank proficiency in English as the most important quality in a new employee. It should be a system that supports all communities. Additional points should be awarded to those planning to work outside of London and the South East.“Typically, small firms that recruit from the EU do so into medium- or high-skilled roles. We know that many of those roles do not have salaries of £30,000 or more, so it’s good to see the MAC and government responding to our concerns in this area.”
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Dedicated social care visa: suggested by the Federation of Small Businesses

Mr Cherry adds, “It’s right that additional points are awarded for those with skills relevant to industries struggling with shortages. However, there are also many jobs in the care and construction sectors that may not meet skill requirements but are essential to our economy and society.“That’s why we’re proposing a new dedicated social care visa, in recognition of the chronic personnel shortages in this crucial sector and the fact that it will take 15 years for us to train enough UK citizens to address those shortages.“Ultimately, small firms want a responsive immigration system that is alive to the skills shortages – at all levels – that are holding them back. They want to have a role in up-skilling their workforce and bringing through the next generation. But that will be a long journey – we can’t be expected to make it overnight.“Equally, the EU contractors that contribute so much to our economy should still have the freedom to offer their vital skill sets in the UK.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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