Has the Government got it wrong with new immigration rules?

The Government says businesses have been heavily involved in designing the new immigration rules. But not all of them, apparently.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 Mar 2011
The Government’s new immigration rules, published today by minister Damian Green, have already provoked some fierce debate. With scientists and high earners all exempted from the new cap, research companies and City firms alike have hailed the new rules as a victory. Smaller firms, on the other hand, are less impressed, while those who depend on recruiting graduates from outside the EU are also unhappy. The Government says it has ‘worked closely’ with business during the process – but it clearly hasn't taken everyone’s needs into account...

The idea of the new rules is to cut the number of non-EU immigrants coming to the UK from its current level of more than 200,000 per year to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. The Government says it wants to introduce a monthly limit for the number of visa applications it approves, handing out 4,200 in April, and then 1,500 a month after that. But in order to encourage those that Green calls ‘the brightest and the best’ to come over, those earning more than £150,000 will be exempted from the cap - as will workers being transferred within companies, as well as chemists, physicists, geologists and research and development managers.

The CBI has welcomed the changes, saying that by exempting the most highly-paid, the Government is ‘putting the emphasis on the most economically beneficial part of the system'. It added that as the economy recovers, having enough highly-skilled workers is going to be ‘vital’ if the UK wants to remain attractive as a place to invest.

But Nicolas Rollaston, the head of immigration practice at law firm Kingsley Napley, isn't convinced. He points out that using salary level as a barometer isn’t necessarily the most accurate way to attract the highest-skilled workers to the UK - particularly at the junior end of the market, i.e. graduates and trainees. 'Lots of law firms want Chinese-speaking or Indian-speaking trainees, because that’s the future of their business – but with these rules, there are concerns about whether they will be able to sponsor those people to come to London.’

That doesn’t just apply to City law firms, though. The Government has been keen to push international trade, particularly with developing economies, as a key component of the recovery; just last week, it published a Trade and Investment white paper that included measures designed to make exporting easier. But if businesses can’t bring in people from those countries with a view to training them up, says Rollaston, that’s going to make expanding abroad more difficult.

So while the Government has made some sensible concessions, it arguably hasn't gone far enough...

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