Skills Gap to Open Borders to Skilled Worker Visa Applicants
The topic of visas and immigration is never far from the political headlines and, as the UK continues to struggle with labour shortages, these topics have been thrust back into the spotlight.
The topic of visas and immigration is never far from the political headlines and, as the UK continues to struggle with labour shortages, these topics have been thrust back into the spotlight. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in March 2023 that further measures were required to “crack down” on illegal migrants coming to the UK. The announcement came after new legislation (the Nationality and Borders Bill) made it illegal for migrants to enter the UK without a visa or a special exemption.
Sunak’s desire to close UK borders to illegal immigrants comes at the same time government officials are trying to open them for skilled workers. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics show that 13% of businesses were short of workers in the fourth quarter of 2022. Further evidence for the skills shortage came from the Federation of Small Businesses. A survey conducted in late 2022 found that 78% of businesses were struggling to recruit workers, with 82% citing a lack of relevant skills, experience, and qualifications.
Immigration Essential for UK Labour Force
The skills gap means there are now more than 1 million job vacancies in the UK, a number the government acknowledges can’t be filled by locals alone. The Department of Work and Pensions has already been tasked with assessing the current status of the UK jobs market and devising a plan. According to a Financial Times report in March 2023, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Suella Braverman are also working with trade organisations, including the Home Builders Federation. Indeed, with ONS data showing that 20% of construction businesses are suffering labour shortages, changes are needed now.
This has prompted discussions regarding immigration laws and visas for skilled workers. The old Tier 2 visa was replaced in 2020. The new Skilled Worker visa lowered several thresholds, including the amount migrants would have to earn and the level of qualification they needed. However, more changes may be necessary. If so, the UK can look to European countries for inspiration.
Visa Lessons from Europe
For example, Finland recently introduced a fast-track system for skilled workers and their families, taking the process down to 14 days. Spain has also made it easier for foreign nationals already in the country to obtain work permits. In Portugal, skilled workers can now get short-term visas that are valid for six months.
Whatever the changes to the UK’s system, one constant will remain paperwork. Understanding the nuances and technicalities of the visa system is tricky at the best of times, so employers or individuals that want to navigate the process will still need the help of qualified immigration lawyers. When the process of hiring from overseas is wrapped up in red tape and one incorrectly filled-in form can delay what’s already a lengthy process, working with an expert in this area is important. As well as providing general advice on the entry requirements, immigration lawyers can reduce the chances someone will apply for an error.
When laws are changing, it is the job of legal experts to disseminate this information to clients. With the government actively pushing to issue more skilled worker visas, demand for legal services could increase significantly in 2023 and beyond.