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Our achievements: Creating an immigration system that attracts global talent

CaSE is celebrating a selection of its achievements from the last decade. From 2017 on we have led a successful campaign to reform the UK immigration system and better attract global talent.

CaSE’s strength: Working hard to develop good relationships with policy and decision makers

Skilled overseas workers could not receive UK visas

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2017, immigration policy and control of the UK’s borders was a heated topic of national debate. For the previous six years there had been a cap placed on the number of skilled workers who could be recruited from outside the UK and the EU, although the cap had never been reached.

In December 2017 the number of visa applicants from overseas non-EU skilled workers exceeded the cap for the first time ever. In that month alone, over 1,000 skilled workers were refused visas because the cap had been reached. These were workers who had already secured a job in the UK but whose application was automatically rejected because of the cap. The problem continued and the number of visa refusals continued month by month.

We worked with Parliament to understand the scale of the issue

Although the story received initial news coverage, no one knew exactly how many visas were being refused or in what roles. CaSE believed that STEM roles were being disproportionately affected by this cap and were keen to access the data to back this up. We worked with a cross-party selection of Parliamentarians to ask Parliamentary Questions on uncovering the data but were given non-responses by government officials. CaSE finally succeeded by submitting a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which gave us the figures and the job codes to provide a fuller picture.

Further FOI requests showed that by July 2018 over 14,000 visa applications had been rejected for skilled workers being recruited to the UK, and over half of them were in STEM roles. Hospitals registrars and other professions in the health sector were one of the largest jobs affected, after which came the IT, engineering and technology sectors.

Raised the matter with the Prime Minister and in the media

CaSE drew together a broad coalition of organisations affected by this issue. We wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, co-signed by 47 other organisations, including the Institute of Directors, the British Chamber of Commerce and many other representatives from across business and science. In the letter we offered a solution – exempting any role from the cap that was already on the government’s shortage occupation list. This list identifies those jobs in the UK for which there aren’t sufficient people to fill those roles and two-thirds of which are in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).

We also used the data from the FOI request to generate further media attention on the story. We announced the figures on the same day that our Executive Director gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee and so were able to share the data directly with Parliament. With the cap affecting a wide number of sectors, including hospitals and business services, the media coverage became widespread and was picked up by various columnists, including the former Chancellor George Osborne.

Developing strong relations with the Home Office moving forwards

The pressure on the government grew over time and eventually the Home Office applied an exemption for NHS workers which meant the cap would no longer be exceeded and applications from non-EU skilled workers could be processed as normal. This work was surrounded both before and after with ongoing dialogue and behind the scene conversations with the Home Office. This has allowed us to developed strong relations with officials there and CaSE has been able to secure a suite of further positive changes to immigration regulations that better support the science and engineering workforce. Now in the post-Brexit era there is a global talent visa as part of the new immigration system, specifically designed to attract and encourage talented people to work and live in the UK.