Pandemic sparks fears over skills visas

How long it will take for the global situation to return to something approaching normal?

UK visa application
Predictably, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented fall in the amount of skilled migration, overseas assignees, intra-company transfers and foreign student numbers.Now, experts are wondering how long it will take for the global situation to return to something approaching normal.

UK Tier 2 skilled visa numbers down 95% on Q2 last year

In the UK, the latest data from the Home Office shows that, between April and June, the number of people from outside the EU granted Tier 2, skilled worker visas fell to 1,384 - 95% lower than in Q2 a year earlier.The fall was part of an overall 99%, quarter-on-quarter drop in the number of visas granted, including for students: the total falling from 1.16 million in Q2 of 2019 to 13,137 in the second quarter of 2020.

Will the UK see an increase in non-EU migration later this year?

“There has been a total collapse in the number of visas granted in the second quarter of the year, after lockdown measures were brought in," commented Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.“The impacts are seen right across the board, with many fewer people getting visas for work, study and family. While statistics for the first quarter of the year suggested non-EU net migration had sharply increased, this is now ancient history.“The big question for the future is how long these impacts last and whether we start to see a recovery in non-EU migration later in the year—particularly among students who usually get their visas in the third quarter.”

Recruitment and Employment Confederation: "Firms need to know that the new immigration system will be flexible enough to fix skills shortages"

Kate Shoesmith, director of sales and marketing at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said that it was vital that employers continued to have access to the skills they needed to grow and adapt to the "new normal".She added, "Although it is likely that more people will be looking for new jobs, many will not immediately have the skills to fill these roles. So it’s worrying that the number of people were coming to work in the UK was low, even before the pandemic."Firms need to know that the new immigration system will be flexible enough to be help fix the skills shortages affecting the construction, IT and social care sectors in the short term – or we risk stalling the economic recovery.

Investment needed to retrain and upskill those unemployed by coronavirus pandemic job losses

“Alongside a functioning immigration system we need the investment to retrain and upskill the increasing numbers of recently unemployed. For example, a flexible Apprenticeship Levy would help people get the qualifications to become the LGV drivers and social care workers that our data tells us are in demand.”

Disentangling Covid-19 migration number changes from the results of the new UK immigration system will be difficult

Naomi Hanrahan-Soar, a immigration specialist and managing associate at law firm Lewis Silkin, said that it was not surprising that travel numbers to the UK for March dropped by up to 95% given the worldwide travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic."It is likely we will not see the full impact of Covid-19 on migration figures until much later in the year. It will be interesting to see if the pandemic produces long-term changes to migration, however, it will be difficult to disentangle this from the effect the new immigration system will have from the beginning of next year,” she added.But even before coronavirus turned the world on its head, there were warnings in the UK that Brexit and the introduction of a new, points-based immigration system would deter EU nationals from heading for Britain.

Brexit: risk that skilled worker migration from the EU could fall further

In February, a report from international accountancy and business advisory firm BDO said that, after the transition period ends on December 31, "there is a risk that skilled worker migration from the European continent could fall further creating potential challenges for some key UK industries".Stuart Lisle, senior partner at BDO, said at the time that the UK was already in the grip of a skills shortage, with the technology and manufacturing industries worst affected.

UK business should work with the education sector to help reverse skills shortages

“It’s now more crucial than ever that British businesses can continue to bring in talented workers from overseas where necessary, once the UK’s exit from the EU is completed,” he said, adding that the technology sector had seen a 17% fall in Tier 2 visa applications since the EU referendum, while the manufacturing sector had suffered a 14% decline.“The pipeline of talent for UK business is a fundamentally important need for British business and therefore I believe that business should take an active role in working with the education sector to engage with students and unlock the talent that we have inside the country to deliver sustainable economic success,” Mr Lisle said.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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