Moves by David Cameron to toughen visa rules for foreign workers could backfire by forcing British companies to expand overseas and hitting the quality of university research, the government’s immigration advisers have warned.
They also concluded there was little evidence of skilled recruits from overseas undercutting the pay levels of British workers.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) urged caution on the Government over its wish to reduce the number of migrants allowed to work in jobs where employers encounter recruitment problems.
Mr Cameron instructed the committee to examine the impact of raising the minimum salary requirement for skilled worker visas for non-Europeans – known as Tier 2 visas – on business, industry and the public sector.
The move was among a range of policy proposals announced by the Prime Minister in May for reducing the demand for migrant labour. He has said it was “frankly too easy” for some businesses to hire workers from overseas.
Eurosceptic Tory MPs
Eurosceptic Tory MPs
1/7 Owen Paterson
Formerly a cabinet minister, Owen Paterson is now free to make his opinion known on the backbenchers. On the subject of Europe, he does so regularly – claiming recently that the EU referendum was “rigged” in favour of staying in
2/7 John Redwood
A longstanding eurosceptic, Mr Redwood warned last year that businesses that spoke out in favour of EU membership would be punished at the check-outs by anti-EU
3/7 Bill Cash
Awkward squad rebel Bill Cash said last year that he thought the EU had become an undemocratic, German-dominated project. “An increasingly assertive German Europe is at odds with British national interests,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph
4/7 Philip Davies
From the Conservative party’s hard right wing, Philip Davies has been a longstanding critic of the EU. He founded the Better off Out campaign and is so eurosceptic that Ukip decided not to stand a candidate against him in 2010 because they agreed with him
5/7 Nadine Dorries
Outspoken Tory MP Nadine Dorries has previously advocated an alliance with Ukip. At the height of the Greek crisis in 2013 she said that the EU was “dying on its feet”
6/7 Liam Fox
The former defence secretary is a central figure on the right wing of the Conservative party. He’s long put pressure on David Cameron over EU negotiations
7/7 Zac Goldsmith
A socially liberal eurosceptic, Goldsmith was one of the founding members of the People’s Pledge campaign to get MPs to sign up for an EU referendum. His father ran the Referendum Party, a precursor to Ukip
But in a report the MAC said it had been warned by firms that increasing the pay thresholds could “prevent expansion of business and thus possibly cause certain business areas to grow elsewhere in the world at the expense of the UK”.
Fears were also raised about the move by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, which has frequently clashed with the Home Office over immigration policy.
It told the MAC that businesses outside London trying to recruit talented young staff could be particularly affected, with the Scottish Government and Scottish universities strongly opposing the plan.
Scotland was singled out by several groups which gave evidence to the committee as an area which would be “detrimentally affected”.
The MAC warned that increasing the salary thresholds would hit the health and education sectors which rely heavily on skilled foreign recruits. Universities said it would hamper their chances of recruiting the “best global talent” and of competing for foreign-based research grants.
Sir David Metcalf, the committee’s chairman, said: “We urge the government to be cautious in making any significant changes to the salary thresholds because they should not be considered in isolation.”
Under the current system, migrant workers must be employed in a job with a minimum annual salary of £20,800 and there are higher thresholds for specific jobs considered to suffer skill shortages.
Sir David said that raising the threshold for those jobs could have a “really quite substantial impact” by locking 16,000 people out of the jobs market, with nurses and secondary teachers among the most affected professions.
There is a cap on the number of general Tier 2 visas which can be issued each year. It was met for the first time in June and in July, and is expected to be hit again in August. Sir David said: “Obviously as a consequence of that, we are therefore excluding some people who firms would like to bring in.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We thank the Migration Advisory Committee for their report. We will consider its findings and respond in due course.”Reuse content