UK immigration options and the labour crisis
With COVID-19 and the UK’s departure from the EU, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a labour crisis – with an immediate concern for the UK supply chain and Christmas. The mid/ long term solution is of course to recruit from within the UK, but this involves time and money, for example attracting, training, and investing in the next generation.
So what about the short-term solution when there is difficulty in attracting/ lack of home talent?
The answer it seems, at least for the UK Government, are targeted temporary visa options for HGV drivers and poultry workers, which they hope will at least save Christmas! This is under the temporary Seasonal Worker route, with the additional announcement to allow pork butchers (although this is still to be formalised).
These are very temporary options indeed as seen below:
Apply for visa by Visa expires on Poultry workers (5,500 visas available) 15 November 2021 31 December 2021 HGV food drivers (4,700 visas available) 1 December 2021 28 February 2022 Pork butchers TBC – probably 31 December 2021 – not yet formalised TBC – probably 6 months – not yet formalised
The benefit of the Seasonal Worker route is that it is less onerous and less expensive than the hands-on Skilled Worker sponsored route.
Would be migrants can be sponsored under the Seasonal Worker route by 1 of 4 approved organisations, and they might not need to provide personal evidence they meet the financial requirement. There is also no minimum salary threshold, although National Minimum Wage (and other) legislation does need to be complied with. This may just be the fix we need, but it is an extremely short-term option!
In comparison, under the Skilled Worker route, the direct employer must apply for/ hold a relevant sponsor licence, sponsor the migrant themselves, and be responsible for the various obligations and duties attached to sponsorship. In addition, the vacancy must be for a role which is amenable to sponsorship. For example HGV drivers cannot be sponsored, but a poultry worker as a butcher can be sponsored under the Skilled Worker route. There is also the minimum salary threshold which needs to be met, which in most cases is £25,600 per year and at least £10.10 per hour. For businesses looking to recruit someone longer-term, this could still be a viable but perhaps costly option.
So is the Government’s targeted approach working?
The proof will be in the (Christmas) pudding! However, the uptake in temporary visas by HGV drivers is just a paltry 0.4% (around 20 applications as of 13 October 2021, with each application taking around three weeks to process).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a very low uptake and with such a short visa validity period, it is hardly an attractive option for migrants for such temporary work, where other countries can offer more stability and probably less bureaucracy especially within the EU.
What about coming over under the visitor rules?
Broadly speaking, visitors to the UK cannot work. However, the Immigration Rules provide for “Permitted Activities” which cover various but specific business needs including:
- General Business Activities
- Intra-corporate Activities
- Manufacture and supply of goods to the UK
In the context of HGV drivers and poultry workers, it seems the visitor rules will be of limited assistance.
What about other sectors?
There is very much an appetite for similar short-term visa options to be introduced for example in banking. And clearly, where there is political will, the Government can address immediate needs by amending the Immigration Rules, at very short notice if circumstances dictate this.
However, the Government is also very keen for businesses to move away from relying on foreign labour, and to invest, train, and recruit from within the UK. It therefore seems short-term immigration options will only be introduced in the most extreme circumstances…!
It seems that unless more attractive options are introduced by the Government in the short term, the labour crisis will remain and there will continue to be difficulties in recruiting.
In the meantime, businesses will need to keep trying to encourage applications with incentives. Employers can also lobby elected officials, industry bodies, as well as participating in consultations such as in the social care sector which is really struggling. Hopefully in the medium to long-term, this labour crisis will no longer be an issue!
OTHER ITEMS TO NOTE
Other than looking at immigration options in the labour crisis, changes and immigration related news/cases you might want to take a note of include:
- Skilled Workers applying for indefinite leave to remain must now be earning at least £10.10 per hour
- Au pairs can’t enter the UK as visitors
- People travelling to Great Britain from Ireland may encounter immigration checks, despite the Common Travel Area
- If recommendations are accepted and implemented by the Home Office, Intra-Company Transfer workers could become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and a drop in skill level to match Skilled Workers
First published: 27 October 2021
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