UK immigration policy must change to stop digital skills crisis

The Science and Technology Committee (STC) has urged the UK government to relax Tier 2 visa restrictions for IT companies with 20 or fewer employees. The STC, a government committee, said: "UK immigration policies need to be revised in order to help address the country's 'digital skills crisis.'"

A report published by the STC stated that 'it needs to be made easier for SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) to recruit workers based outside of the European Union (EU).' The report also says that the UK's digital skills gap costs the country £63bn in lost GDP, every year.

A key recommendation, outlined in the report, calls for a review of the criteria that immigrants must meet in order to work in IT jobs on Tier 2 visas. According to the report, this would enable more SMEs to easily recruit workers from outside of the EU.

Sanwar Ali, Editor of workpermit.com News has the following comments to make:

On 24 June 2016 we found out that the UK has decided to leave the EU. It will take some time before the UK does actually decide to leave the EU. This may make the skills shortage situation even worse in future. Employers will no longer have easy access to new EU citizen workers from outside the UK. In the longer term due to "Brexit" Tier 2 immigration policy may change and make things easier. More immigration may be allowed from outside the EU.

UK Immigration Tier 2 Visa changes

The STC acknowledged the recent changesmade by the UK government to assist more SMEs with employing skilled workers from outside the EU. However, unfortunately, the new rules exclude enterprises with 20 or fewer staff.

Nicola Blackwood, the STC's chairwoman, said:"The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. The government deserves credit for action taken so far, but it needs to go much further and faster. We need action on Tier 2 visas, vocational training and putting digital skills at the heart of modern apprenticeships."

Tier 2 Visa Shortage Occupation List only benefits some employers

UK Immigration has added occupations including IT product managers, systems engineers, data scientists and cybersecurity specialists, to the Tier 2 visa Shortage Occupation List. However, many SMEs employ fewer than twenty staff and so do not meet the criteria to come under the easier requirements under the Tier 2 visa scheme for occupations on the Tier 2 visa shortage occupation list.

Other SMEs who also do not meet the requirements under the easier Tier 2 visa route are smaller companies that are more than 25 percent owned by a larger corporation, plus those who have received 'substantial investment' from a FTSE 100 listed company.

Apart from recommending changes to Tier 2 Visa immigration policy, the STC report has also urged that educational related issuesbe addressed, and has recommended that new training initiatives be implemented.

The committee wants digital skills to become a 'core component' across all apprenticeships and not just digital apprenticeships.

Ross Fraser, the vice president and managing director for the UK and Ireland at EMC – a US-based, multinational cloud computing specialist – said: "The UK is perceived to be leading the world in terms of the national computing curriculum and IT education in schools generally."

"However, graduates still aren't arriving on the market 'business-ready' and need rapid training to make them useful and effective to the business.While the committee is already calling for changes, it's important for employers to work closely with the education industry; to help identify what skills are needed and where the talent gaps lie to help attune education to the industry's needs," Fraser added.

National Audit Office Report

Earlier this year, a report published by the National Audit Office – a UK government department responsible for auditing the accounts of all Government Departments and a number of other public sector bodies – stated that the government had only been successful in recruiting 70 percent of computer science teachers needed across the sector.

According to the report, just 35 percent of teaching staff working across the computer science subject area possesses a relevant degree.

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