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Government sets out cap on immigrant engineers

The number of non-European engineers granted top-level visas to seek work in Briain will effectively be limited to 200 under rules announced yesterday.

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) will be able to approve the 200 visas under a pilot scheme for those with ‘exceptional talent’ as part of the government’s cap on immigration from outside the European Union (EU).

A total of 1,000 places are available for ‘Tier 1’ immigration candidates in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and arts — a small fraction of the 14,000 visas in this category granted in 2009, although more people can now apply for a Tier 2 ’skilled worker’ visa and those sponsored by employers can apply for a different visa.

‘Two-hundred extra engineers is a drop in the ocean.’

Stephen Tetlow, chief executive IMechE

The new RAE president, Sir John Parker, said: ‘In order to safeguard the UK’s future competitiveness, we must ensure that it remains an attractive destination for world-class engineers.

‘I am confident that this new visa route will help to encourage global excellence to come to the UK,’ he added.

Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), said the plans were a step in the right direction.

‘But for this to make a difference, they need to be leaders in their field, whose influence and impact will ripple throughout the economy and who can be used to influence a new generation of engineers in this country.

‘The government, however, should not treat this measure as a panacea for the growing engineering skills shortage. Two-hundred extra engineers is a drop in the ocean.’


Other groups, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), have previously expressed concern at the cap — particularly in light of the perceived skills gap in the sector.

A total of 21,700 non-EU migrants, excluding internal company transfers, will be granted a visa this year, compared with 28,000 in 2009.

Paul Davies, head of policy at the IET, said it was difficult to know whether the government had got the figure for Tier 1 immigrants right, but that only 19 per cent of companies in a recent IET skills survey were worried about the cap.

‘That would indicate that a lot of companies don’t think about it or don’t see it as a big issue for them,’ he told The Engineer.

‘We asked the 19 per cent why they were concerned and half of them said it was because they already had overseas employees and were worried about the restrictions on them. Other things, such as not being able to get the skills required, were much further down.’


Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE), welcomed the news but said: ‘The flaw in the government’s plans is obvious: why should the UK have a limit on the number of “exceptionally talented” people we can welcome?

‘If we’re to be one of the best places in the world for research, we need to attract as much “exceptional talent” as we can — it’s not rocket science.

‘I’m grateful that the government has listened to our concerns, but remember that there’s no limit at all for wealthy investors, elite sports people or religious ministers. Why have one for scientists and engineers?’

Under the pilot scheme, which will run from August 2011 to March 2012, individual engineers will make their own applications for entry into the UK and the RAE will advise the UK Border Agency which to approve.

The RAE has worked with the Royal Society and humanities body the British Academy — which have 300 and 200 visas of their own to allocate, respectively — to set the eligibility criteria for applicants, although it did not reveal what these were.

Readers' comments (8)

  • This article gives a misleading impression. The limit of 200 is only for those who wish to come without an employer to sponsor them - that is to look for a job. Employers can sponsor others under Tier 2 which has a limit of about 20,000. So far only about half of the monthly Tier 2 quota is being taken up.
    It is very interesting that only 19% of employers have expressed any concern. Much of that may be the result of confusion over the interim arrangements. The system now needs time to settle down. "Crying wolf" will not help....

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  • Andrew: If that is the case then the quota if anything is way too generous. Entering a country without a job to go to can't be a smart idea, so should exclude that candidate!

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  • I am an American who has had the greatest pleasure of working with the greast scientists and engineers in the world on NASA Apollo programs and defense projects. One of the best English Flight Test Directors I had the pleasure of working for was Alan King whom was in charge of UK missile development back in the day before Apollo. I believe the 200 factor to be a wise decision. Keep up the fine work, UK.

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  • I am not sure why our American friend is so keen to exclude non-europeans from UK. Our productivity alas depends on talent and hard work, an ethic we seem to have lost in comparison to the Far East. If we implement these quotas there may be a reciprocal tariff imposed on expats? On a quality perspective, how many expats earn revenues which match an immigrant of high training and hard work ethic? We certainly dont need any more rocket scientists.

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  • The abuse of the Intra-Company Tranfer system makes a mockery of these controls. There isn't a major shortage of engineers in UK, just a major shortage of companies prepared to pay the market rate. The long term effect of this is to make engineering a less attractive career option, and to create a skills shortage in the future.

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  • ‘I am confident that this new visa route will help to encourage global excellence to come to the UK,’ he added.

    ‘The government, however, should not treat this measure as a panacea for the growing engineering skills shortage. Two-hundred extra engineers is a drop in the ocean.’

    The shortage of common sense in UK senior management is the shortage we need to be most concerned about.

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  • David, that is very true. There is a major issue that whilst engineering pay can be reasonably rewarding it is not in correlation with the level of work in comparison to other fields and in particular when you consider the same field in another country. Engineering companies make very large profits but fail to pass these on to the engineers, not even if they are regarded as top talent. This seems to isolate the UK and even results in a brain drain or a lack of home grown engineers. It is something that needs to change. Engineering is one of the most productive career choices out there and the pay should reflect this.

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  • As there is strong demand and shortage in built environment professionals such as Quantity Surveyors, RAE should consider those professionals also in the Engineering category

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