Visa Bureau responds to the UK immigration cap and the closure of the skilled visa programme

The UK immigration cap is set to
slash the number of new skilled
migrants coming to the UK.

As of 5 April, 2011, a UK immigration cap was put into effect and the Tier 1 (General) skilled visa programme was closed. As a result, the only remaining visa for independent skilled migrants to apply for is Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent); a visa which is all but impossible to obtain and has been capped at being for just 1,000 people a year.

It's a devastating move, and has already been lambasted as being poorly thought-out and potentially damaging to the UK economy. The move also seems to disregard any benefit that skilled migration has had on helping the UK economy in the past.

How has the skilled visa programme helped the UK?

Both Tier 1 (General) and its predecessor the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) have proved highly beneficial to the UK. Since 2002, the HSMP and Tier 1 helped ensure that highly skilled workers attracted to working in the UK had a clear route to arrive independently.

This allowed UK companies to recruit the cream of the international workforce, helping the British economy grow to unprecedented heights in the boom years of the early and mid 2000s.

Why has the Government closed the UK skilled visa programme?

UK immigration has long been a contentious issue. While public opinion polls reveal that up to three quarters of the UK population favour a reduction in the number of migrants coming to the UK, there has been a lack of understanding as to the various different migration pathways and visa types, and even on the definition of who classifies as a migrant. A fascinating research paper on the issue from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford can be found here, which highlights how much confusion there is regarding the issue.

As a result, even though it's clear that the majority of the UK public favoured that migration be reduced, the Conservative Party's response of declaring a target to reduce net immigration to the UK to 'tens, rather than hundreds of thousands' is the wrong move to make. By focussing only on statistics and numbers and make such a sweeping change to simply appease public opinion, the Government seems set to keep out the highly-skilled migrants who contribute the most to the UK economy.

What other changes have been made as a result of the UK immigration cap?

Even beyond the independent route of the Tier 1 (General) route being closed, further changes have been made to drastically change the UK immigration landscape. A cap has also been placed on the Tier 2 visa which limits the number of non-EU migrant workers that all UK employers can hire to just 20,700 a year.

There will be no limit on the number of entrepreneurs and investors that can come to the UK, and Tier 2 Intra-company transfer visas will also be outside the cap, but intra-company transfer arrivals will ONLY be permitted to stay in the UK for longer than 12 months if they are earning £40,000 a year or more. 

In addition, intra-company transfer visas will be restricted to five years and no longer lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

Will there be a UK skilled visa programme again?

While it's almost inevitable that there will be a new skilled visa programme in the future, it seems like this is only likely to happen when the UK economy has risen to a level where UK skills shortages will demand that more skilled migrants be brought in.

However, given how instrumental skilled migrants have been in driving economic growth in the past, the immigration cap seems counter-productive to helping the UK economy grow. While the situation might seem impossible at the moment, we still hope that the Government will see sense and make new allowances for as many of the best and brightest international workers to come to work in the UK as possible.

- Tom Blackett is Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.