Access Denied: why is the UK turning away overseas engineering talent?

2 min read

Work visa red tape makes a mockery of the government's stated intentions to get to grips with the engineering skills shortage writes our anonymous blogger.

I am somewhat perplexed by the attitude of our government. Before you ask: yes this does seem to be a perpetual state of mind and no it doesn't necessarily refer to just a single party. In this particular case the cause lies within the fact that for about 20 years we have been predicting a shortfall of engineers for the next 40. This should ring two specific alarm bells, the first because the situation exists and the second because the time period for the predicted shortfall isn't actually getting any shorter.

Recently we have seen new initiatives from the government with regard to this problem which, you'd think, could only be a “good thing”. However I'm left wondering if its all merely a bit of flimflam to keep us quiet. It all looks good on the surface with predicted results in x years but why aren't we doing something now, after all the problem exists in the present? What set me off down this path is the recent experiences of Perkins, the current squeeze of a member of my family.

Perkins is a bright young fellow who hails from across the pond. Having said that, he obviously saw the light early and came over here to study engineering where he has built a life for himself and (if you've met him) clearly found his second home. He was in the middle of taking a Masters when he decided that he wanted to go out into the big wide world to earn some money instead. It is here that the problem starts.

Getting through to an interview hasn't been an issue at all, but getting sponsorship for a work visa has. As I understand it there are allocations of work visas based on income and also allocations for those coming over to be employed in strategic professions. Apparently a graduate engineering position does not qualify for either. Poor Perkins has, to my knowledge, had two companies eager to interview him for a vacancy and then dropped him due to them not being able to get the paperwork to – well - work. He has now just accepted a job back over in the “land of the free”, despite dearly wanting to be over here and Britain having a conspicuous deficit of young people in our sector.

This whole situation makes it difficult for me to reconcile the needs of industry and the rhetoric from on high of supporting engineering. Why aren't we, as a country, actively enabling foreign nationals to work here within our profession? Its not a handout as they will be contributing to the economy whilst helping strengthen our technological base. They wont be “taking our jobs” as we are looking at a sustained shortfall of people needed to fulfil the long term projected demand. In this case there can't even be any worry regarding levels of education as his qualifications were earned over here.

I'm left wondering why the government declaration about providing funding to tackle the need for engineers over a number of years was left unchallenged while this very clear resource remains untapped. Was it a diversionary tactic or have they just not considered any alternatives? I'd also like to know what the Institutes and lobbying groups are doing about this. Is there anyone who is actually pushing our causes and needs in Westminster? Sometimes the solution isn't simply to throw money at something but rather to be more clever with the solutions you have available. To assess all your options and select the most appropriate rather than most obvious or the most popular. Perhaps if there was an engineer heading the government they might actually realise that?