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Will the £35K Rule Hit the Security Industry?

As of 6 April 2016, skilled workers in the UK on Tier 2 visas (sponsored 'work permits') will only be able to secure Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK if they are earning at least £35,000 per year.

Whilst those on the official 'shortage list' are exempt from this, as are those working at PhD level, this could have a major impact on the technology sector, and specifically those working in the crucial area of security.

Although cybersecurity specialists have recently been added to the shortage list, the vast majority already in the UK, as well as new hires, won't meet the strict criteria required to be exempted. So, what does this mean for companies?

For larger companies who have established and well paid staff, this may have very little effect. But for smaller companies and start-ups it ties them into paying higher salaries to retain staff when their business model may be to pay lower basic salaries supplemented by bonuses and share options, neither of which are counted in the Home Office assessment.

If they have a member of staff who is earning lower than £35,000 at the end of the fifth year there is an option to extend the visa for a further 12 months, but realistically individuals who are committed to staying in the UK may well choose to leave for another company or indeed another country if that 12 months will be filled with uncertainty.

This will also restrict the pool of talent from which start-ups and smaller companies can recruit. If a security specialist who has been in the UK for three or four years is headhunted by a start-up, he can't take a risk on a lower basic salary as that would mean having to leave the country within a few years if the company doesn't take off or can't guarantee the required higher salary. Essentially, this will result in less flexibility for staff and for employers, and could well lead to stagnation in an industry that relies on growth, innovation and the movement of people and ideas.

With this kind of discouragement, it is inevitable that this will make potential employees reluctant to come to the UK in the future. When the US, Germany and Israel are welcoming technical staff and simplifying the visa process, there seems to be little reason for skilled professionals to come to the UK instead.

Thanks to a petition set up by the lobby group ‘Stop £35k’, which was signed by over 100,000 people, the effects of the change were debated by a number of MPs in Westminster Hall last Monday. Sadly, very few MPs were present, although the SNP were well represented, and it is unlikely that the government will listen to the points raised and change their policy.

Paul Scully (Conservative MP for Sutton), introducing the petition, claimed that around 40,000 people will be affected by the changes. This amounts to about 10% of the net migration figure, and it seems from both Scully's input and the response from Richard Harrington (Conservative MP for Watford), the Under Secretary of the Home Office speaking on behalf of the government, that cutting migration figures was the main point of the policy change. It also seemed fairly obvious that several members wanted to turn this into an argument about EU membership.

Several SNP members spoke about the fact that the £35k figure is going to disproportionately hurt their constituents, as well as those in Wales and Northern Ireland, and in fact anywhere outside of London. Kirsten Oswald (SNP, East Renfrewshire), was concerned about the impact on future potential migrants, stating that this measure will do damage to the reputation of this government, who are sending out the message “if you don't make $50,000 please leave.”

She also highlighted that the government response to the petition talks about mass migration, resources and social cohesion, and not about business and industry, which seems to indicate that they don't see business as a priority in the wider immigration debate.

Stuart_McDonald (SNP, Glasgow South), pointed out that the policy was illogical. Tier 2 applicants are recruited where local workers aren't available, they are allowed to put down roots, and now they will be told that unless there is a big pay hike they have to leave. He pointed out that this will cause a lot of pain, that there is no logic to inflicting such pain, and that the government are basing the worth of an individual purely on their income and not what they bring to society.

Mr McDonald also spoke about the impact on business, referring specifically to software engineers, and how inappropriate it is to have a 'one size fits all approach' regardless of profession, job or region. He argued that in areas of shortage where migrants were simply going to be replaced by migrants on lower salaries, that there was no point to the policy.

Keir Starmer (Labour MP for Holborn & St Pancras), Shadow Immigration spokesman, made the point that the people who will be affected by this are all net contributors to the economy and that they are filling skills gaps.

He said that the Migration Advisory Committee claimed that 35% of IT or software professionals will be excluded by this policy. He also claimed that reductions in the number of Tier 2 migrants in the UK would result in negative growth to the economy and that the cost of this policy could be as much as £288m over 10 years. He ended by stating that the government were interested in “creating headlines rather than addressing the immigration needs of the country.”  

This measure was not debated in parliament before it was introduced, and there is no mechanism for it to be rejected by parliament. This debate, whilst airing the main issues, was not followed by a vote.

It is advisable that all companies who are employing non-EEA nationals on Tier 2 visas, or who are undergoing a recruitment process now, ensure that they have all the information needed in order to make sure their staff don't fall foul of this latest immigration law change.

For a full video of the debate visit - stop35k.org

For all information on Tier 2 and other visas visit medivisas.com

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