Why businesses are calling for easing of immigration rules: Anna-Elise Harvey

As the UK continues to adjust to its new position in the world post-Brexit, pressure for the Government to soften immigration regulations in order to enable businesses in key sectors to fill staff shortfalls and drive economic growth, is gaining momentum.

With the slowing of the UK economy, the need to provide a practical solution to bolster some of the sectors worst affected by worker shortages, such as healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, hospitality and construction, is becoming more urgent.

Over the last year, various ideas have been discussed such as proposals to lift the cap on foreign seasonal agricultural workers and broadband operatives as well as altering the shortage occupations list to help fill vacancies in key occupations such as for social care workers, nurses and HGV drivers.

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In such a competitive employment market, more and more businesses are looking for skills overseas and would welcome moves to raise the number of workers allowed to enter the UK.

Anna-Elise Harvey gives her expert viewAnna-Elise Harvey gives her expert view
Anna-Elise Harvey gives her expert view

The removal of current hurdles such as the English-language requirement in key sectors have been mooted to enable more overseas workers to qualify for visas.

Another idea is to allow more educated workers worldwide to work in the UK, for example by introducing a new visa for graduates of top global universities.

There has been mounting pressure from businesses lobbying for the Government to relax immigration rules.

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At the CBI’s recent conference, Tony Danker called for politicians to adopt a ‘practical’ approach to immigration at a time when the UK’s job vacancies remain at record levels.

He urged the UK to enable ‘economic migration’ and advocated more fixed-term visas for overseas workers in sectors lacking skilled workers.

We have even seen the chief executive of retailer Next, the Conservative peer and Brexit supporter Simon Wolfson, urging the Government to make it easier for foreign workers to come to the UK.

The latest group to join the debate is the independent Migration Advisory Committee, who have warned the Prime Minister not to focus on cutting net migration amidst UK staff shortages.

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The consequences of the end to freedom of movement both to and from the EU are extremely complex and many businesses have struggled to safely navigate through this fast-changing landscape and ensure compliance. In addition to the easing of immigration regulations, the simplification and streamlining of the processes involved would also be a huge help, lessening the bureaucratic burden for employers looking to bring in skills from overseas.

A High Potential Individual visa for top worldwide graduates and another sponsorship route for fast-growing businesses were introduced during 2022 but, in the aftermath of the pandemic, it seems unlikely that these alone will have the impact businesses desperately need.

It is clear that after a period of such momentous change, and as we face another global recession, now, more than ever, it would be opportune to review current immigration policies and processes with a view to supporting businesses in their quest to access talent from around the world to help drive the UK economy.

Anna-Elise Harvey is a business immigration law expert at Clarion