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UK: concern over skilled visa recommendations

In a recent report, the Migration Advisory Committee, an independent body which advises the UK government on immigration policy, has recommended that the government raise the minimum salary threshold for those on a Tier 2 visa – the skilled worker visa used by most international students who stay and work in the UK post-graduation.

Net migration reached 336,000 in the year ending June 2015. Photo: ONS (Office of National Statistics)

"Currently we are in sore need of essential skilled workers from abroad, and no amount of wishful thinking will reduce that need"

Currently at £20,800, the MAC has recommended that the threshold increases to £23,000 for new entrants (which would include most new graduates) and to £30,000 for experienced workers, in order to prioritise higher valued, skilled migrants within the Tier 2 visa route.

“UKCISA is very concerned that this will make it far more difficult for more than a very small number of students to qualify”

However, representative bodies in the international education sector have said that these changes could make the UK less attractive to international students.

“The MAC report however now recommends that not only minimum salary levels should be increased, but that those switching from Tier 4 should, in the future, be subject to both the RLMT [resident labour market test] and the Tier 2 cap,” Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, told The PIE News.

“UKCISA is very concerned that this will make it far more difficult for more than a very small number of students to qualify, could have very significant implications for UK’s attractiveness as a study destination and hopes that the government will very carefully consider the overall impact of this measure before implementation,” he said.

His comments echoed a submission made by Universities UK in a call for evidence on the visa threshold last year, which said that the Tier 2 route is “already relatively inaccessible to a large number of graduating international students due to the current salary thresholds”.

“Increasing the salary thresholds to a higher level is likely to further restrict post study work opportunities for international students to the detriment of the UK’s competitiveness,” it warned.

The report was published in order to address concerns about the rising number of migrants working in the UK, following the news that the net migration figures reached 336,000 for the year ending June 2015 – a record high.

The MAC’s report also recommends the implementation of an Immigration Skills Charge, at £1,000 a year, for employers that hire foreign workers, to raise funds to develop skills training for domestic workers.

It also suggests extending the Resident Labour Market Test to “in-country switchers from other routes [including the Tier 4 student visa] together with including them in an extended limit covering the whole of Tier 2 (General)”.

The report states that increasing the cost associated with recruiting a Tier 2 migrant may encourage employers to use the domestic labour force.

However, Chai Patel, legal and policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that the MAC is merely “obsessing over the net migration statistics” rather than investing in training for the domestic workforce.

“Currently we are in sore need of essential skilled workers from abroad, and no amount of wishful thinking will reduce that need,” he said.

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