How the UK’s migration bill will hit manufacturing

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Jon Excell


New legislation that will see low earning migrants deported takes effect this April. What impact might it have on manufacturing?

Critics of the UK government’s plans to introduce a pay threshold for non-EU migrants have been cranking up the volume this week.

At the time of writing, 72,000 people had signed a petition calling on the home secretary Theresa May to scrap the controversial legislation, which will see non-EU migrants deported if they are earning less than £35,000 after 5 years.

Due to take effect in April, the new rules are part of a package of measures designed to reduce net immigration to the UK. The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics net reached 330,000 in the year to March 2015, which is three times higher than the government’s target.

The home secretary has defended the pay threshold legislation and claimed that it will benefit the economy by ensuring that only the “brightest and best” immigrants remain in the UK.

However, an increasingly vocal group of critics argue that the £35k cap, which is above the UK’s average salary of £26,500, is unfairly draconian and could have a devastating impact on many industries which rely heavily on skilled workers from outside the EU, in particular the nursing, teaching and IT professions.

We might also add engineering to that list.

As frequently reported by The Engineer, the UK engineering sectors face an acute and worrying skills shortage. Last year the Royal Academy of engineering warned that we will need a million new engineers over the next 5 years. And faced with stiff competition for home-grown talent employers are increasingly looking overseas to fill key vacancies. Indeed, according to the EEF’s 2015 skills survey, 29 per cent of manufacturers are not confident that they will be able to recruit skilled engineers from within the UK, whilst around one in ten (9%) of manufacturers say that they plan to recruit from outside of Europe in the next 3 years.

Though engineering salaries are generally higher than average, we can be fairly confident that at least some of those essential non-EU migrants will be earning less than £35K. According to our own 2015 salary survey, the average salary of a junior engineer is just £32k. Meanwhile, a quick search of any of the engineering job boards, including our own, will return numerous opportunities paying less than the new threshold.

The legislation has already been watered down. For instance, scientists and researchers in PhD level jobs will be exempt from the cap. But we would suggest that the home secretary needs to take a careful look at how it could impact the engineering sectors before it’s too late.

If the UK wants to maintain its position as a world-leader in key areas of engineering, international skills are essential. Not just to fill roles, but to help UK based firms retain an international perspective and reap the economic rewards of a broad-based and diverse workforce.

And whilst immigration is an issue that can’t be avoided, government needs to tread carefully to ensure it doesn’t sacrifice valuable skills in its efforts to make the numbers add up.

Are you an overseas worker likely to be affected by the new legislation? Do you have a view on the role played by non-EU migrants in UK industry? Click below to comment and let us know your thoughts.