Immigration cap continues to hurt our IT industry at time of huge potential growth

27 July 2016

Technology and Business Intelligence Consultant at Lusona Consultancy, Rob Hilley explains:

It’s crazy that we continue to wilfully handicap our own IT industry through immigration rules which make it increasingly difficult for companies to employ migrant workers.

In particular, the UK’s chronic shortage of cyber security professionals is well known, yet we persist in our failure to address the situation through a ready-made influx of skilled workers from outside the European Union.

Side-by-side with this persistent skills shortage, we’re in the midst of a cybercrime epidemic that costs the UK some £27bn a year – a significant price to pay, by anyone’s yardstick.

Tech companies across the UK represent huge opportunities for growth, and cyber security is a massive, burgeoning industry, creating jobs and attracting investment.

At the same time, there is a desperate need for specialist talent to drive that growth – and immigration allows labour demand to be met with supply. Despite this, legislative barriers continue to be thrown up.

It’s no coincidence that the CIPD – the professional body for those in HR and people development – recently warned businesses to make contingency plans for recruiting staff. In fact, it expects yet further restrictions to be applied to the Tier 2 (General) Visa and Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer visa schemes.

For almost all applications for Tier 2 visas to employ overseas workers who are based outside of the UK businesses need to apply for what is called Tier 2 restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (COS). This has been capped at a limit of 20,700.

However, the cap was reached for the first time in June last year and again in July, and it will surely only be a matter of time before its reached again this year, leaving many enterprises unable to recruit overseas staff with essential cyber security skills, among other industries crying out for new talent.

It’s thought that demand will then continually exceed the monthly cap level due to the serious skills shortages being experienced across many industries and because unsuccessful applicants will want to re-apply.

Worse, despite the occupation 'cyber-security specialist' being added to the official skills shortage list late last year, it seems that many companies will not even meet the qualifying company requirements to hire non-EU immigrants and obtain Tier 2 visas under the scheme.

Becoming one of those qualifying companies requires a bewildering array of demands – so much so that they are likely to bypass them altogether and simply advertise for positions within the EU.

It’s particularly galling that the government has repeatedly told of its concerns over a dearth of sufficient security skills – Defence Secretary Philip Hammond pledged to take on ‘hundreds’ back in 2013  – yet the Home Office then goes and makes it even more difficult to hire skilled workers from outside the EU.
To my mind, it is disingenuous and needlessly restrictive. In an industry which is characterised by innovation, the difficulty in bringing in suitable staff, against the backdrop of a government-acknowledged shortage, is placing it at a massive competitive disadvantage.

Disappointingly, employers looking to hire talent from overseas must continue to monitor the monthly cap outcomes and plan ahead if they are to recruit successfully.


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