The view from within the electronics industry – individual comment pieces from people working in the technology sector.

Why not fast-track highly skilled migrants into the UK

Last Autumn I had the opportunity at a dinner to sit down next to my local MP and the Home Secretary Theresa May.

David Wicks managing director at European Recruitment

David Wicks managing director at European Recruitment

I took the chance to engage them in candid chats about highly skilled immigration; this is an obvious concern in my line of business as for many years the HSMP, Tier 1 and 2 routes have been a source of the very best people from around the world for my clients.

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I had many clients in the 00’s that probably relied on this method for 30-40% of their niche roles. I had assumed that the difficulty to obtaining visas for non-EU workers was due to the fact we had reached a limit on the visas available. I was very surprised to learn that UK companies had only used half of the 10,000 visas available and were very unlikely to get to the 10,000 cap.

Firstly, I am interested to hear from the Electronics Weekly community as to their experiences of hiring visa candidates. If they don’t do it, or are loathe to do it, why?

My main assumption and having heard anecdotally from various clients who seek very niche skills, the average time it takes to get a visa for an engineer from India, for example, takes 3 to 4 months. In an industry that is incredibly fast-paced and competitive, this is not a viable solution.

Alternatively, at European Recruitment we have found acquiring a visa for a candidate on contract from the Netherlands or Sweden takes us 3 to 4 weeks and is a consistent, smooth process that allows a candidate to resign at the time of application and serve their notice period while waiting for it to come through. All our visa experts have 100% records in this space. This includes Germany, which might take longer but still has a 100% success rate, as there is a clear agreement by the government that the skills gap exists, and this gives their country a competitive advantage. They have not been enforcing caps and the bureaucratic process is much quicker.

I will always advocate home-grown talent in the UK and even EU, but there is certainly a skills shortage of specialised people that can fill certain roles. As I have discussed before, this is a problem that starts at school, university and even parental encouragement that means there is a limited number of top tier STEM graduates coming through. This problem is not going to be resolved overnight, and often the 5-15 years experts they require are not in the EU or interested to move.

I would propose a fast-track visa route for the brightest and best STEM graduates and senior technical experts from outside the UK to enhance the UK’s engineering capacity to remain competitive. Often, those choosing to work in other countries list their first choice as the UK – however, we need to make them feel welcome and that it is a viable option.

If we can trust that our world leading, home-grown companies such as Rolls-Royce, Dyson, ARM, IMG or exciting satellite offices like Google or Intel have, are going to hire exceptional non-EU candidates, I don’t believe this is the type of immigration that people have issues with in the UK. They are nearly always 40% plus tax payers and a neighbour you would happily have.

I was a key supplier for a world leading Wireless chipset company from 2003 to 2008 where there was a significant recruitment drive; their targets for hiring were only reached by utilising the talent pool of non-EU candidates with the HSMP, with Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas also being crucial. Tier 1, where the candidate was so keen to work in the UK that he spent on average a month’s salary to apply for it, does not exist anymore. This company realised they couldn’t recruit the volume of people they needed in the UK so were forced to open a site in India – within 6 years it already employs over 1,500 software engineers who are of the very highest standard.

I also believe talented non-EU engineers are simply going to the US or other European countries not only because of the hassle but the political rhetoric; elsewhere they are welcomed with open arms. Asia is also gathering pace with opportunities not just for native experts but for Europeans, offering a very high quality of life. I absolutely believe businesses are put off by the time frames involved in acquiring visas for the UK. There needs to be a better solution. I’d be interested to hear if anyone agrees.

Viewpoint by David Wicks, managing director at European Recruitment




One comment

  1. Hi David
    Your column caught my eye as I was catching up on my reading – the headline did the trick: Why not fast-track highly skilled migrants into the UK (shouldn’t there be a “?” there too?).

    You may/may not be aware that last April the Migratory Advisory Committee accepted evidence produced by NMI to include a number of electronics and software roles on the Shortage Occupation List. This, in theory, reduces the bureaucracy of bringing in those rare, and highly valuable skills to fuel UK based activities (see here
    I’d also like to make you aware of the UK Electronic Skills Foundation (UKESF) which was set up to combat the declining numbers taking undergraduate degrees which the UK electronic systems industry needs. UKESF was led by NMI and launched in 2010 as a consortium between industry, Government and Industry bodies I am pleased to report that the Foundation is gaining traction with more and more companies providing scholarships, engaging in Summer School activities and supporting schools projects.
    Is this enough? Probably not but it is a good step in the right direction and if more of industry supported it then my answer would likely be yes!

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