As demand for non-EU migrant workers increases despite rising levels of unemployment, the coalition government’s temporary migration cap is hindering employers’ ability to fill key positions, an HR body has cautioned.
The warning came as the Office for National Statistics revealed that the level of net migration into the UK increased by 36% last year, a steady rise since December 2008. An estimated 572,000 people entered the UK to reside on a long-term basis in the year to June 2010 compared with 346,000 who emigrated.
The number of individuals coming to the country for long-term employment purposes grew by 4% to 84,370, although separate figures published for the first time suggested that the difficult economic climate had dramatically reduced the number of short-term workers coming to the country. An estimated 97,000 overseas residents entered the UK for short-term work-related purposes in the year to mid-2009, a drop of 40% on the previous year.
Nonetheless, a survey undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and management consultancy KPMG on skills, migration and offshoring as part of their Labour Market Outlook report revealed that just over one in four employers were struggling to fill vacancies from within the UK and European Union.
Some 23% of that number were attempting to hire non-EU migrant workers to fill engineering posts, 15% for IT positions and 7% respectively for nursing and accountancy or finance roles. But some 17% had been blocked from recruiting non-EU members due to the temporary cap, which is due to be replaced with a permanent ceiling when it comes to an end in April this year.
Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD’s policy advisor and author of the report, said: “The introduction of the temporary cap has had an impact on employers’ ability to fill vacancies and improve productivity, particularly in the NHS. It remains questionable whether the increase in the number of employer-related visas issued by the government for the next year will be enough to address the projected increase in the demand for migrant workers.
The problem was that the UK still had skills shortages in many areas and the number of non-EU visas required was in the mere tens rather than hundreds of thousands.
“So while it is right to highlight our concern about rising unemployment, we should not overlook the benefits and invaluable expertise and experience that a relatively small number of non-EU workers bring to the UK economy,” Davies said. “Keeping out skilled non-EU workers won’t help unemployed people in the UK in the near-term, but could have real and negative consequences for business and the public sector.”