Announcement on the immigration cap expected next week

Posted on November 19, 2010 by

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Lots happened yesterday on the proposed changes to immigration. A consultation reported, there was a debate in the Commons and David Cameron indicated that we can expect an announcement on the government’s plans next week.

Background

This is the proposed strategy to reduce net immigration to the UK by capping non-EU immigration through Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system which has raised concerns across the research community. This is the way skilled international researchers come into the UK to work so a poorly applied cap might restrict their mobility and damage UK research. Two consultations were ongoing to advise government on this, by the UK Border Agency and the Migration Advisory Committee and the government were expected to announce their plans before Christmas, with them coming into force in April 2011. For more background check out this amrc briefing.

What happened yesterday?

The Migration Advisory Committee published their report. It recognises some of the concerns for science but does not capture all of them, for example the concern that taking previous salary into account when allocating points to those applying to enter the UK might count against scientists who tend to have relatively lower salaries.

However, this concern was raised during a backbench debate in the Commons yesterday by Tom Brake MP:

We need an immigration policy that is beneficial to the UK, and various organisations have raised questions about our policy. I am sure that the Minister has been on the receiving end of the briefing from Universities UK and the Association of Medical Research Charities, and that he is ready to respond positively to their concerns. The briefing concentrates quite heavily on controls that could stop researchers who could make a substantial contribution to medicine if they come to the UK under tier 1. They are worried about past salary being one of the principal considerations. Often, academics and researchers have not previously received salaries commensurate with those in the finance sector or law and so on. Therefore, some regard must be given to ensuring that people who will make a contribution will not be disallowed from coming in. We know that people make such contributions, and some have won Nobel prizes following their contributions to research. In addition, research developments very often lead to economic or business applications.

Universities UK and the Association of Medical Charities are also concerned about tier 2. Academics and researchers are not listed as shortage occupations, but they are often in specialised, niche markets, in which very few people have the same skills either in the UK or beyond.

The issues for science were also raised by other MPs including Gavin Barwell (a member of the commons science & technology committee):

I have heard it rumoured that the Government are considering an exemption for footballers. Personally, I would place a higher priority on highly skilled research scientists and people of that kind. I support what the Government are doing and I think that the cap is right, but we need to look at the detail to make sure that there is flexibility for particular areas of the economy, where it is in our national interest to bring in people with the highest level of skills, or entrepreneurs with a proven record who are going to create jobs and boost economic growth. All Members will have been lobbied by organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Cancer Research UK on those points.

and David Mowat:

Academia is a second, and related, area. We have heard a lot about the impact of the temporary cap on academia. It is true that if we wish our society to become less reliant on financial services, much of our success will depend on applied science and engineering and on how well we address those subjects at university and transfer knowledge into wealth. We are in a global market, and we need to be able to treat it in a global way.

I was struck by something I recently learned about the Wellcome Trust. It needed to hire a zebra geneticist team leader. It was not able to do that without advertising in the local job market in Cambridge. Members will not be surprised to learn that there were no applicants for the job, and Wellcome was subsequently permitted to recruit by other means. That is a cumbersome process, and we need to do better.

The minister responding for the government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire, said on science:

A particular concern that has been raised, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) this afternoon, is the position of scientists and researchers. We are confident that next year’s limit can be made to operate in a way that ensures that universities and research institutions are not prevented from recruiting top scientists and other workers with key skills

David Cameron appeared in front of the Liaison committee (a sort of super-select committee made up of the chairs of all the select committees) and in response to question said that an announcement on the immigration cap could be expected next week. What that announcement will say we don’t know yet but he did, in response to questions, emphasise that the government is pro-science. You can watch the committee session here.

What next?

We wait for the government announcement next week. One of the two consultations conducted to inform their decision – by the UK Border Agency – is still yet to report.

 

Posted in: Policy