Britain blocks visas for 1,200 IT specialists

The government’s Tier 2 immigration system has refused entry to 1,200 non-EU technology specialists, even though they all had job offers from employers in the UK.

Between December 2017 and March 2018, a total of 1,226 IT specialists who British companies had given offers of employment to had their Tier 2 certificates rejected.

It represents the first time that hundreds of overseas people skilled in technology have been blocked from entering the UK because they exceeded the monthly cap on Tier 2 entrants.

CASE, which obtained the figures under freedom of information rules, said it was employers who were being “blocked” from the IT skills they need due to the “arbitrary” Tier 2 cap (20,700 a year, from which a monthly quota is derived).

“These rejections send a damaging message that the UK is not open to the ‘brightest and best’ across the world,” said Dr Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE).

Employers need a predictable immigration system. The Tier 2 cap increases uncertainty…[and] all the while, the UK public support immigration of skilled workers”.

The campaign pointed out that in 2015, the cap was reached and the Home Office provided the refusal figures when requested in response to a Parliamentary Question.

But since December 2017, similar questions have been tabled but the figures have not been provided.

Labour MP Paul Blomfield confirmed: “The Home Office repeatedly refused to provide information on its impact in response to numerous written parliamentary questions that I tabled.

“Now it’s clear why. In IT [and other sectors] …the Tier 2 cap is holding back companies, universities and the NHS.

“It shouldn’t have taken an FOI request to force out the information. As we head towards Brexit, we need an open and honest debate around migration policy.”

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, says the need for immigration reform “has never been as urgent.”

“The private sector must now work more closely than ever with government leaders to ensure there is an understanding of the impact the shortage of skills is having on the tech sector,” he said.

“The current Tier 2 Visa cap and salary restrictions inevitably hit the UK’s tech community the hardest and this is also where we see a worrying lack of government engagement.

“If Britain is to remain a leading global destination to build and grow the businesses of tomorrow, we must have a revamp of the visa system that accurately reflects the requirements of UK firms.”

The government policy of an annual cap on Tier 2 visas was introduced in 2011. Before December 2017 the cap had only been breached once, June 2015, when just 66 engineering roles were refused.

“1,600 [the total number of IT and engineering Tier 2 rejects] is a huge increase,” reflected Richard Holway, founder of analysis house TechMarketView.

“One theory is that EU IT workers are leaving the UK -- or not applying for jobs – post-Brexit. Thus spurring the need for more non-EU workers.”

Holway admits to having “mixed feelings” about the Tier 2 cap -- on the one hand, he says, the UK must train “our own IT experts rather than rely on an external pool”.

On the other, he says the cap should have spurred more employers to “train their own by now”, and “most” young tech firms he visits count non-EU IT workers among their staff – or their founders.

The Tier 2 visa system was introduced by prime minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary as a way to restrict entry to Britain to skilled workers from outside the EU who had received an offer of employment.

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