In order for the government to cut net migration numbers to the UK post-Brexit, it has been reported that three government departments will be sharing data on citizens so that immigration status checks can be made more easily.
It has been reported that the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will all share data about citizens, thereby enabling checks on immigration status to be made more easily e.g. by employers and public service agencies.
The proposals, which are part of a Home Office paper entitled “the Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the European Union” have not been agreed upon by ministers, but have provoked discussion.
The key shift in government policy that the document is built-around is the idea that rather than employers or EU citizens deciding about migration, the government could impose measures that prioritize the economic and social needs of the country.
Fewer Low-Skilled EU Migrants
In other words, the government is looking to minimise migration to the UK by lower-skilled workers. The document indicates that this could be achieved by several measures including:
- Limiting residency to a maximum of two years for lower-skilled workers, and offering five-year work permits for high-skilled migrant workers.
- Scrapping EU rules on the rights of extended family members to reside in the UK.
- Not granting residence permits to jobseekers, and introducing a specific income threshold for ‘self-sufficient’ migrants.
- Introducing “right to work” checks carried out by employers themselves, with the threat of criminal sanctions against companies and individuals where illegal working is discovered. This is similar to law already in place whereby landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of tenants. Employers could, therefore, effectively take on some of the work of UK immigration.
One of the key challenges in IT in the UK market is a skills gap, particularly in areas such as data, security, Python, Ruby, UI and UX. The low number of UK students graduating with computer science degrees (particularly females) has made this gap wider. Also, lower average salaries for London tech jobs compared to those in other key European and US tech cities have also lead to a brain drain.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
For IT businesses, many of which (particularly start-ups) wanted to remain in the EU, skilled migrant workers are necessary to fill the skills gap and to enable UK IT companies to compete in the global market. The government has also stated that it wants the UK to be a digital powerhouse. With these factors in mind, it is important that government immigration policy does not cause the kind of uncertainty and worries that could act as a deterrent to migrant tech workers who may want to stay for some time in the UK with their spouses / families, and who will clearly be contributors to the economy (as many lower-skilled workers are also). Taking a broader view, it is important to acknowledge that whole industries in the UK now rely upon migrant workers of varying skill levels e.g. hospitality and health, and any new regulations need to strike a careful balance to take into account the needs of migrant workers, the needs businesses who employ them, and to not invite retaliatory action by the 27-country EU bloc for measures that could be seen as treating EU nationals as second-class citizens in the UK.
For IT companies, Brexit looks set to make it more challenging to attract skilled people from overseas. It is not down to just businesses alone to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech eco system finds effective ways to address the skills gap and keep the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive.