Critics warn strict Tier 2 visa requirements will hurt UK companies

Critics have warned that stricter Tier 2 visa requirements introduced last year will threaten the global competitiveness of the UK's food industry. The changes mean that many high level employees will not be able to remain in the UK on a permanent basis.

As part of the UK's commitment to cut net immigration to "tens of thousands", the government has tightened up requirements for Tier 2 visas and made it more difficult for immigrants to remain on a long term/permanent basis. Under the Tier 2 visa, immigrants can work in the UK for up to six years.

Under the new rules, Tier 2 visa holders who wish to stay in the UK beyond 6 years, must apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years of continuous residence in the UK. To qualify, an employee cannot have spent more than 180 days out of the UK for the entire time they were on the Tier 2 visa. Also, no single absence from the UK can exceed 90 consecutive days. Tier 2 visa holders who are unable to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain will be required to leave the UK once they have been in the country for 6 years and will be unable to apply for another Tier 2 visa for at least 12 months.

For the year from 6 April 2012 to 5 April 2013, a maximum of 20,700 skilled workers can come to the UK under Tier 2 (General). There is no limit on the number of workers coming to the UK to do jobs with an annual salary of £150,000 or above.

The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) and others have claimed that the Tier 2 visa rules could even force some companies to relocate their research and development departments overseas. John Poole, IFST chief executive believes that the restrictions will result in a brain drain because skilled workers that have trained in the UK will be deterred by the new restriction and take their knowledge and the money invested in them home.

But critics worry that employees in multinational food and drink firms will easily exceed the 180-day maximum. Therefore, if an employee fails to gain indefinite leave to remain, under the new rules, after his Tier 2 visa expires, he would be prevented from working in the UK for a year.

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