Hurdles facing non-EEA workers continue to mount

By Gerwyn Davies, Labour Market Adviser at the CIPD, @Davies_Gerwyn

Against the backdrop of a tight labour market, it seems that one of the solutions available to employers may be about to get harder.  Following the introduction of a series of restrictions on non-EEA workers over recent years, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been charged with analysing the potential for reducing the inflow of non-EEA workers further in order to help the government achieve its aim of reducing immigration into the UK. 

The MAC has been asked to produce two reports that will be considered by government ahead of immigration rule changes next year.  The second report, due out in December 2015, will offer a broad overview of how to reduce the inflow of non-EEA migrant workers.  In the meantime, the MAC has produced a report that analyses whether the minimum salary thresholds for employing non-EEA workers, either via the intra-company transfer (ICT) route or the more general Tier 2 route, should be increased.  

The MAC report is cautious and balanced in its analysis.  On the one hand, it argues that there is a good case for increasing the minimum salary threshold of £20,800 given that this was calculated in 2009 when the National Qualification (NQF) Level was just 3.  It has since risen to Level 6, which is broadly graduate level.  In addition, the MAC argues that there may be a rationale to increase salaries for ICTs.   However, on the other hand, it points out that the raising of the salary thresholds may cause difficulties, especially for those sectors such as education and health, where salary is less of a proxy for skill.  Additionally, as the CIPD has warned in recent years, imposing further restrictions on migrant workers could constrain the growth and productivity potential of firms.

However, a more critical analysis might have pointed out that it is now 6 years since UK employers were implicitly warned that they needed to invest more in their staff when the cap was first introduced.  It is also noticeable that the number of non-EEA workers in employment has increased sharply over the past 6 years while the number of apprenticeships has recently started to plateau.  CIPD research published only last week provided some encouragement that UK employers are turning to a wider pool of younger people alongside more formal training schemes such as apprenticeships to ease recruitment difficulties in the year head.   A raising of the salary threshold for non-EEA migrant workers might thus give more employers a further nudge to address their own future skills’ needs.

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  • They truly need to exclude health care professionals from these constraints.  There are no apprenticeship opportunities for degree level posts in healthcare.