Cap is not damaging economy, says immigration advisor

13th Sep 2011

Although there is “no evidence” that the immigration cap is damaging the UK economy, it is creating an employment “dilemma” in the public sector, the government’s chief advisor has warned.

Professor David Metcalf, who chairs the Migration Advisory Committee, pointed to the fact that, although the cap on skilled migrants from outside of the European Economic Area stood at 20,700 in the 12 months to June this year, only 8,900 non-EEA nationals had come to the country to work during that period.   Employers had feared that the cap may inhibit their ability to recruit the specialist skills they required, leading to a break on economic growth.   In the preface to his report, however, Metcalfe also pointed to the fact that “limitations” in public spending caused by the coalition government’s £80 billion public sector budget cuts were creating a “dilemma”.   An ability to increase wages in relatively low-paid jobs was leading to skills shortages in some areas, for example, social workers employed in children and family services. But this situation could end up generating increased demand for migrant labour.   “There is a real tension between the two goals of reducing both public spending and net immigration,” Metcalfe wrote.  Open and shut cases  Other occupational shortages are being generated by structural deficits, however. This situation comes about when employers are providing training to create a more skilled workforce, but require immigrant labour to fill gaps in the meantime.   In its report, the MAC recommended that 70,000 jobs should be closed to non-EEA workers, cutting the number of positions on the shortage occupation list to 190,000.   If its suggestions are accepted by the Home Office, it will only be possible to fill 29 types of posts, including pharmacists, secondary school biology teachers, veterinary surgeons and consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology, with UK citizens or workers from the European Economic Area.   A further 33 job titles would be opened up to non-EU migrant workers, however. These include maths, chemistry and physics teachers, engineers, consultants in psychiatry, nuclear decommissioners, highly-skilled chefs and classical ballet dancers.   Metcalfe said that the proposed changes would have only a “limited impact”, but added that it was vital that the Government, employers and the training sector tool “concerted action” to raise the skills levels of the UK workforce, especially in areas where there had been a long-term shortage of staff.   “This will reduce the UK’s reliance on migrant workers in the long-term and provide real benefits for the economy as a whole,” he added.

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