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Luna Williams: The future for overseas skills after Brexit

With Brexit-day looming and the prospect of “no-deal” still very much on the table, many industries are growing concerned about what the future holds, particularly in terms of recruiting overseas staff.

luna author headshot

luna author headshot

Luna Williams is political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service

Many sectors rely on European talent, however, none quite as much as engineering. With a shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000, the engineering sector’s dependency on migrant talent has been growing year-on-year.

The UK Shortage List is a government resource which shows which professions officially need non-UK talent. Almost half of those listed are from the engineering sector, and ground engineer is one of those named.

The Shortage Occupation List does not allow migrants to bypass any immigration rules or visa restrictions. In fact, engineers being listed as an occupation the UK is in shortage of is a great cause for concern for the industry when access to talent pools will be restricted by visa rules. With the potential loss of the “implementation period” (as a result of no deal), these rules could be put in place as soon as this March. In the best-case scenario, we will have the implementation period to ensure businesses still have a smooth transition in immigration terms since the government also expects employers to manoeuvre as immigration officers, too. The transition period is expected to last until December 2020, but it would appear we have sacrificed this in the latest Brexit defeat.

At best, listing vacancies on the Shortage Occupation List allows employers to bypass the 28-day Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) to recruit local talent. This test is a measure which means that all UK employers must ensure they cannot fill the role with domestic talent before they offer the job to someone from overseas. However, the latest Immigration White Paper (released December 2018) tells us the RLMT is being scrapped anyway.

For example, migrant nurses and doctors are eligible to apply through the list, yet they still require a Tier 2 Work Visa to legally enter the country and legally work here. Once visa rules apply to EU nurses and doctors, the NHS’ workforce shortages will be exacerbated further.

Nevertheless, unless Brexit is cancelled, all non-UK engineers will be required to meet the Tier 2 Work Visa requirements. Their employers will be required to apply for a Sponsorship Licence to issue each EEA and international worker with a Certificate of Sponsorship to accompany their visa application. The Government offers little relief to employers in the White Paper, saying only that this process will be a little “streamlined” – meanwhile the likes of the Confederation of British Industry have been lobbying to have Sponsor Licences removed entirely.

A silver lining for engineers could be the 12-month temporary work visa the government is offering to roll out until 2025. This might allow graduate engineers, and others in the sector who earn less than £30,000, to apply for a role in the UK. However, this won’t fill overall workforce shortages since this route allows migrants to enter and work in the UK for one year only. After that, they must return to their country of origin for at least another year – the cooling off’ period – until they can apply for a UK visa again. While in the UK, they are heavily restricted and cannot bring family members with them – so it is not the most attractive option available.

The future of the ground engineering sector, and the wider engineering industry is uncertain and those involved in Brexit negotiations need to bear this in mind. It’s all very well toting the line “no-deal is better than a bad deal”, but when the reality could result in the destabilisation of an industry, this needs to be considered.

  • Luna Williams is political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service


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