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What difference will the new immigration rules make to IT recruitment?

What difference will the new immigration rules make to IT recruitment?

Posted on 15th July 2020

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It is impossible to disentangle the changes to the UK’s immigration system from the politics that surround them. However, no matter which side your political bread is buttered, unlike the previous system we now have a standardised policy for the entire world, where entry is determined by the same criteria, whether you apply from Germany, Ghana or Guyana. 

What we heard on Monday from the government was more or less exactly what we expected, based on the previous briefings from February this year. At that time, response to the proposed points-based system was mixed, but from the IT industry there was a general welcome, albeit with many questions and the usual special interest pleading. 

The announcement yesterday did answer some of those questions, but the biggest problem is that this policy was formed in a pre-Covid world where there was certainty and relative stability in the jobs market, albeit underpinned by serious skills shortages in many disciplines, and not just IT/digital.  

That said, with unemployment already rising and set to increase to levels not seen for many decades, we don’t even know if there will be enough jobs for all the people in this country, let alone from abroad. In many areas of the labour market, competition for jobs will be intense. But for those sectors with serious skill shortages which cannot be quickly or easily alleviated via the education system, the need to attract and retain talent from all over the world has arguably never been greater. The media, naturally, tend to focus on areas like medicine and social care, yet IT has been and will continue to be equally important. Without the analytical processing power of the modern computer, how else would the epidemiological modelling on which our response to the virus has been based have happened?  Think about it: almost every industry is frantically trying to work out how to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and, in most instances, simply survive between now and the end of the year. IT and digital innovation, products and services are going to lead us out of this mess.

Consequently, and with the get-out-of-jail-free card that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, I believe our sector should broadly welcome these changes and the widening of the net implicit in the new immigration rules and push to make them work.  Over the course of next year, we must constantly evaluate how well the system is working and, where it is not, go back to government and insist it responds promptly.

The key section in the new regs, from the IT industry’s perspective, is probably the ‘Global Talent Scheme.’ It is important to read beyond the headlines and click through to the ‘further details’ section of the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System on the government’s website, published this month (July 2020). This describes their strategy as follows: On 20 February 2020 we launched the Global Talent route, under the current system for non-EU citizens, to improve the UK’s attractiveness to highly skilled individuals with specialist skills. The route reformed and replaced Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and is designed to attract recognised global leaders, and the leaders of tomorrow in science, humanities, engineering, the arts (including film, fashion design and architecture) and digital technology, enriching the UK’s knowledge, economy and society. Top scientists and researchers are able to benefit from a quicker endorsement process as part of a fast track STEM scheme.” That last sentence is important, with a specific paragraph outlining the thinking behind it, thus:

Fast-track Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics scheme 
Science and research are at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy. To facilitate access for top scientists and researchers, who will significantly enhance the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK, a fast-track endorsement process is available to EU and non-EU citizens.

Almost as important (some may argue more so) than the Global Talent Scheme is the ‘Start-up and Innovator’ scheme, designed to attract entrepreneurial talent and innovative, scalable business ideas to the UK. Launched in March 2019 under the current system for non-EU citizens, both routes are for individuals looking to set up an innovative UK business. Start-up is for those setting up an innovative business for the first time, whilst Innovator is for those with industry experience and at least £50,000 funding.”

The criteria for admission under the ‘Global Talent’ and ‘Start-up and Innovator’ schemes are set out in points 65 – 77 of the government’s ‘further details’ document, which you can find here. The next few pages in that document also explain how the system will work in relation to students, with the emphasis very much on opening the doors to all and with no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK to study,’ while the government will also,“seek to increase the number of international students in higher education.” Given that there are hundreds of thousands who come from China, with whose government the west is increasingly at loggerheads, the sources of these international students will, we suggest, have to be broadened.  

By opening up our labour markets to the very best talent across the globe, we have a chance to tackle some of our IT skills shortages.  Those who carp that we are also sending signals that those who don’t meet the criteria are not welcome are, I suggest, missing the point. Many other countries (Australia, New Zealand and Canada in particular) have similar, points-based systems that generally work very well. That doesn’t mean that ours will necessarily be a rip-roaring success (and given the haphazard approach to some aspects of the Covid crisis I am not exactly brimming with confidence), but we have a reasonably clear set of guidelines and a level playing field now.  It’s incumbent on the recruitment industry to make the most of these.  Those recruiters who actively seek out talent from overseas will have to stick at it and engage for the long-haul (and learn some new languages!), but in the medium-term absence of the necessary skills coming out of the educational system in the UK, those that do may well reap the benefits, as will their clients and the economy at large.

Finally, as we have written before, one of the biggest challenges will be to create the technological infrastructure necessary to underpin the new system.  There has been mixed success in this arena during the Covid crisis (contrast HMRC’s furlough scheme with the NHS tracing app), so we await the results with a slight degree of trepidation.  We know that the government cannot please all the people all of the time, but this is a neglected area that it can’t afford to get wrong.  If economic growth does not return at a sufficient level to offer light at the end of the tunnel for the majority, then who knows where we are headed…

Gareth Biggerstaff, CEO, Be-IT



Posted in News, Opinion, Recruitment News

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