New visas for contractors from overseas fail to fly with UK tech staffing body

Contractors from abroad will have to work very hard to make any one of three new visa routes facilitating work in the UK work for them.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) sounded this lukewarm response to the trio of now live immigration channels yesterday.

'Step in the right direction'

In fact, the association’s Tania Bowers believes that despite all three being a “step in the right direction” to plug UK skills gaps, each lacks the flexibility which the labour market needs.

She points out that the Global Business Mobility (GBM) visa comes with a sponsorship requirement, for example, but that a contract needs to be in place before a client can act as a sponsor.

“The sponsorship requirement makes the route for independent contractors less viable,” Ms Bowers, APSCo’s global public policy director said yesterday.

She explained to ContractorUK: “The previous provisions in the International Agreement were very complex, but the self-employed professional route did not require a sponsor. The new route, in comparison, does, which makes it less viable [for contractors].”

'Won't plug skills gap'

A staffing body with member firms that place IT contractors, APSCo put ‘visas’ on a list of “critical policy developments” which it says are vital to making the UK’s workforce both international and flexible.

But the Service Supplier visa (technically one of five available GBM routes), isn’t much better for foreign contractors hoping to bring their skills to the UK.

The association said: “The government has effectively rolled over its existing multi-national trade obligation to offer a visa for self-employed independent professionals into the Service Supplier route, offering no new flexibility.

“Unfortunately, this will not plug the short to medium term skills gap, as the UK looks to up-skill and re-skill”.  

'Don't foresee it being open to IT contractors'

Pressed about APSCo’s reservations, Ms Bowers said it did not anticipate the Service Supplier route to be “much used,” save perhaps for “very specific contracts that are put out to tender by a UK sponsor client.”

“I certainly don’t foresee that it will be open to IT contractors wanting to supply their own services,” she said of the Service Supplier visa. “And [so I] wouldn't encourage foreign IT contractors to look at it.”

The third visa potentially in contention for non-UK contractors (its initial eligibility details were foggy), is the High Potential Individual Visa. This route opened on May 30th 2022.

'Good news for tech employers'

While it appears to be more attractive as individuals overseas can apply for it without having a UK job offer, the HPIV criteria for those individuals is too restrictive for APSCo.

“The HPIV is…restricted to a small pool of graduates from the best, mainly US and European, universities,” Ms Bowers said.

“[Nevertheless], in terms of encouraging the brightest graduates globally to the UK, it seems attractive and IT tech universities featured prominently on the initial list, which is good news for tech employers.”

'Likely to be beneficial to contractors'

The association reassured that it does not believe the HPIV will lead to a dilution of pay rates for UK-based contractors, “given the [high] levels of candidate shortages.”

“In fact, if the UK remains an innovation hub, it's likely to be beneficial to contractors generally,” APSCo said.

“[But] in the longer term, we think that trade deals must focus on services and in particular, the freer exchange of highly skilled people through reciprocal visa arrangements.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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