Moving beyond Covid: Addressing Brexit Staffing Concerns

The year so far has certainly been dominated by Coronavirus, and rightly so. But we’re reaching a stage now where we’re beginning to move beyond the initial panic stages and some sense of normality is returning. For the staffing sector in the UK that means one thing: Brexit is once again the topic of conversation.

I’m certain that had it not been for the pandemic, we would have  seen greater calls for answers in terms of the negotiations that are (or aren’t) taking place as we near the end of the transition period.But understandably this hasn’t happened. Here at APSCo, though, we haven’t taken our finger off the pulse and have continued to stay on top of the latest Brexit developments, particularly around the thorny issue of immigration.

In fact, the details published recently on the points-based immigration system provided a disappointing lack of detail around the movement of and access to highly skilled independent professionals across Europe. In particular, there is little to support and encourage contract workers to make a move to the UK for work after the transition period.

While Tier 2 visas remain in place, the fact that an individual has to have a job offer and be sponsored by a licensed entity means this route isn’t viable for independent professionals seeking multiple contract opportunities.

The Tier 1 Global Talent visa is extremely limited in scope so is not suitable for most independent professionals. While the document recently shared by the Government references a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system which will allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer, the Home Office has made clear that this will not open from January 1st 2021.

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The consequences this could have on resources for some of the UK’s critical sectors is concerning. It is no secret that there are skills shortages across many high skilled fields such as life sciences, engineering, technology and construction, and in order to keep delivering on projects across the country, there needs to be a sustainable pool of talented resources available.  Consequently,we need an immigration system that recognises that the UK’s ability to attract world class brands to set up business here and to negotiate advantageous trade deals after the Brexit transition pivots on access to skills and a flexible workforce.

Without a visa route that is geared to attract highly skilled contractors into the UK, some of the Government’s most important infrastructure plans will be effectively scuppered after the Brexit transition. With international independent workers having limited working models available – agency worker, umbrella or under a PSC – and umbrella companies and recruiters unable to sponsor these individuals, the options for overseas contractors are limited. And with lucrative opportunities available to these individuals in other countries, few are likely to willingly tackle the UK’s immigration system post-transition. In fact, many in the staffing field have already highlighted their concerns around this issue. In a recent survey of recruitment businesses, we found that only a third were confident or very confident in their ability to source enough skilled specialists across the UK or abroad under the new rules in the Immigration Bill for both temporary and permanent roles.

One technology recruiter involved in the survey even went so far as to say “the current visa system and immigration service is a complete joke – there will be utter chaos in the future, guaranteed. It’s prohibitively expensive and time consuming.” This sentiment is perhaps unsurprising when we consider that both software developers and engineers are listed in the top five most critical skill-short sectors.

As the end of the year draws ever closer, it’s crucial that the UK has a plan in place that will allow continued access to the skilled experts we need – including highly skilled international contractors. APSCo has asked to be part of the stakeholder group which will be consulted on the independent worker visa plans over the coming year and will be pushing hard to ensure that it allows a route for independent skilled professionals. But in order to truly drive change, the entire recruitment sector needs to come together as a united voice to call for action.

Ann Swain

Ann Swain
Ann Swain is global CEO of APSCo, an international trade body representing the professional recruitment sector in the UK, Germany, Singapore and Australia.

Ann Swain

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