Scrapping the cap for engineering professionals – A solution to the UK’s shortage of engineers?
It’s no secret that we currently have a shortage of engineering professionals and graduates in the UK. Contributing to this problem is the fact that many school children post the age of 16 do not chose to study the maths and sciences which are required in order to progress into an engineering career. Therefore in order to meet the demand, many UK employers are hiring migrants in the key shortage skill areas. Indeed immigrants already constitute 20% of engineering professionals in the UK, across sectors that include oil and gas extraction, aerospace, and computer, electronic and optical engineering.
In this article, immigration specialists Newland Chase, explore the issues around the UK’s engineer shortage and look at possible solutions to the problem.
For the year from 6 April 2014 – 5 April 2015, the Home Office will be granting 20,700 restricted certificates of sponsorship available to Tier 2 General sponsors. This is inclusive of job roles on the shortage occupation list, which includes a great number of engineering job categories. In fact, half of the 119 jobs listed on the UK Border Agency’s Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List are engineering jobs.
In a recent blog published by the Huffington Post, Sir James Dyson commented on the fact that still more engineers are required to fill the shortage in the UK saying that the Home Office “should remove the immigration cap for the brightest and best, and make a special science and engineering visa.” He also went on to claim that the real problem is that 80% of postgraduate engineering positions at British universities are taken by students from outside the UK, but in spite of this, our current immigration system means that bright engineers and scientists cannot stay here when they finish their studies.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph on the same subject, Sir James called on the Government to ease restrictions on overseas students remaining in the country after their courses had ended. He said that foreign science graduates were needed to “develop technology for export and relieve our skills shortage”, making the point that his own company, Dyson, is also currently short of 200 engineers.
The Points Based System
Under the Points Based System currently in place in the UK, in order to hire a migrant employers are required to sponsor them under Tier 2 General. In the main, this is now the only option since the Tier 1 Post Study Work Visa category closed back in 2012. Some concessions are in fact made to migrants graduating from UK universities whereby Tier 4 Students and Tier 1 Post Study Workers (who were granted leave before the closure of this category) are not subject to the Resident Labour Market Test, nor do they have to show evidence that their profession is on the Shortage Occupation list. This also means that an application by a Tier 4 Student or Tier 1 Post Study Worker for a Tier 2 General visa is not subject to a cap or restriction. Therefore, if an overseas graduate is offered a role here in the UK and their employer has a sponsor licence, there is a relatively straight-forward route for them to be able to stay on and work in the UK. In this respect, Sir James’ assertion that overseas students cannot stay on in the UK after graduation is a little misleading.
The problem that many graduates face, however, is that they are not permitted (as they were before) to stay in the UK under the Tier 1 Post Study Work category, in order to look for a job. This means that an engineering graduate without a job offer straight after concluding their studies must exit the UK. Once outside of the UK they are then subject to restrictions in coming back to the UK to work such as their UK employer having to apply for a Restricted certificate of sponsorship under the cap or having to meet the requirements of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) if the role is not a shortage occupation one.
So should the government introduce a special visa for Science and Engineering migrants?
Whilst we undoubtedly do have a shortage of engineers in the UK, as mentioned above we already have in place the Shortage Occupation List which allows engineers to apply for a Tier 2 General visa without having to go through the RLMT process. Although in many scenarios it would still be necessary to apply for a Restricted CoS, in reality the annual cap of 20,700 on Tier 2 General Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship has never actually been reached. It just unfortunately adds extra lead-in time to the process. Adding more engineering roles to the Shortage Occupation list would also obviously help.
Otherwise, the only other conceivable option is for the Home Office re-introduce the Post-study work visa for science and engineering graduates only. Indeed, this was done previously back in 2004 when the Science & Engineering Graduates visa was introduced and was then eventually transformed into the Tier 1 Post-Study visa for all migrants graduating from UK universities. Indeed this does seem like a good compromise to ease the current shortages and to facilitate the retention of science and engineering graduates in the UK. It might also encourage more students reading these subjects to come to the UK in the first place. Unfortunately any changes like this are likely to require a substantial amount of industry pressure and lobbying, but with James Dyson on the case, who knows….maybe anything is possible!
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