Net migration figures fall

The Home Office have announced a reduction in net migration and heralded this as a success. Many question the value of this fall and current policies are branded by some as being damaging to the UK’s reputation internationally and to UK business.

The Home Office have primarily reduced the number of migrants coming to the UK from outside the EEA in the following areas:

Student Visas:

The Student Visa system was widely abused due to a number of small educational establishments operating English language courses and similar types of educational offerings bringing in people who had no intention of studying, with such companies often bringing far higher numbers of students to the UK than they could possibly accommodate.

These educational establishments were approved by the Home Office in the first place, so removal of the ease with which Sponsor Licences were granted would have remedied this situation. The Home Office went much further and removed the Tier 1 Post Study Work (PSW) visa.

The Tier 1 PSW visa was a strong incentive for international students to come to the UK and study (which also brought a large income to UK Universities) by allowing them to remain in the UK to work for up to 2 years after successfully completing a degree-level course, thus gaining valuable experience. Students now must leave the UK if they cannot quickly find a sponsored job at a suitably skilled and paid level once they have finished their studies.

This was a similar decision to the one made by the Australian Government, resulting in a huge drop in international student income for their Universities and a quick reversal of the policy.

International student numbers have dropped significantly and are expected to continue to drop. This is likely to result in significantly reduced income for British Universities and the result of a this could be the need for increased tuition fees for British students.

Highly Skilled Migrants:

Tier 1 General, formerly known as HSMP, was a very popular visa that enabled highly skilled and educated people to come to the UK without requiring employer sponsorship. This visa was very often used by those seeking to establish a business in a specialist area, surgeons, IT professionals and other similar trades.

The Tier 1 General visa was abolished after Theresa May announced that 30% of the ‘highly skilled’ migrants were doing low-skilled work such as working in supermarkets. This was of course during very difficult economic times and Tier 1 General visa holders were entitled to no benefits or state assistance, thus would take any work to ensure an income while looking for the work that they preferred.

Tier 1 General visa holders are now being targeted by huge increases in the application fees required to extend their visas. If they cannot extend their visas then they must leave the UK. Fees for main applicants and their dependants were increased by 50% in 2012 and for 2013 the fees for family members are also going to be increased by around 50%. These increases are far above the fee increases for any other type of visa and mean that an applicant with a wife and two children will now have to pay the Home Office £5,022 for a postal application that can take up to (or sometimes more than) six months to be decided, during which time the applicant is without a passport and is unable to travel. The estimated cost to the Home Office for processing the application is between £300 and £400 per applicant. If a same-day decision is required then the fee will be £6,522. This will usually provide a 2-year extension. In the face of tough economic times and large increases in the cost of living there are many applicants who will struggle to find the money for these huge fees.

Spouse Visas:

EEA citizens can bring their non-EEA partners to the UK without any financial requirements and without the need to evidence that either of them can speak English by exercising EEA Treaty Rights. A British Citizen living overseas now has to evidence an existing income and evidence English language ability. We are aware of many couples where a British wife has lived overseas for a number of years and raised their children, thus she has no income. The Home Office will not, however, consider the income of the non-EEA partner when an application is made from overseas – only the income of the British Citizen can be considered or savings that are held, the requirement for which is significant. This has left many couples unable to return home or having to face the prospect of returning to the UK alone to generate sufficient income to enable an application to be made. This will of course reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK but the difference between the rules for British Citizens and EU Citizens is significant and has caused much concern.

Work Permits:

There have been significant reductions in the types of roles that can be sponsored by UK employers. Sponsorship is a time-consuming and costly undertaking, with applications taking considerable amounts of time to be decided. Some progress has been made in this area for applications made inside the UK though. Of primary concern to UK Companies is the ability to hire those who are best-suited to the role and can bring maximum value to the business. There are many areas in which the best people are overseas and while this can sometimes be seen to take a job from a British Citizen there are a very large number of examples of this actually creating an increase in the number of jobs available to UK Citizens due to increased success of the UK Company. Of greater concern is the impression being given to international Companies that Britain is ‘closed for business’. Many international Companies will decide where to base themselves based on the ease of getting the best staff – making it hard (or impossible in some cases) for international Companies to obtain the people they need simply encourages them to base themselves somewhere that makes doing business easier.

‘Immigration’ has become a hot topic politically over recent years. Initial concerns were raised with regard to unrestricted migration from new countries joining the EU. Some restrictions were placed on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens coming to the UK, although these were not particularly harsh. Citizens from these countries will soon have unrestricted access to the UK labour market and to state benefits and this has been the cause of much posturing and discussion.

For the last few years the only answer to concerns about increased migration has been to decrease the number of fee-paying students and highly-skilled people who are able to come to the UK from outside the EEA. Many have expressed concern that the Government are in danger of damaging the education system, British business and the international reputation of the UK in the pursuit of what many believe to be unrealistic and unnecessary targets for net migration.

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