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SPONSORED CONTENT: Tackling recruitment challenges amidst the ‘great resignation’ with Harper Macleod

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Ashley Fleming is a senior associate at Harper Macleod
Ashley Fleming is a senior associate at Harper Macleod

Ashley Fleming is a senior associate at Harper Macleod, and specialises in immigration law for businesses, organisations, individuals and families.

Grappling with a global pandemic has given many organisations pause for thought as to how to retain and attract the best talent to their organisations. This has been compounded by both Brexit and the ‘great resignation’, with workers re-evaluating their careers. This has also been felt across the Highlands in sectors such as hospitality, tourism, health and social care, and manufacturing, among others.

With some reports suggesting as many as one in four employees are considering changing roles in 2022, there is no time like the present for employers to explore all avenues available to them to attract the brightest and best to their organisations. One such option is to look to the migrant workforce.

The UK government’s new immigration system, introduced in preparation for the end of the Brexit transition period, makes it easier than before for organisations to hire migrant workers. It did this by expanding the pool of jobs eligible by lowering the appropriate skill level and reducing the minimum salary threshold for visa sponsorship. With the recent trend towards more restrictive migration policies, this relaxation is welcome news to industry. Organisations who previously thought they fell outwith the scope of sponsoring employees’ visas would do well to reconsider their positon in light of the recent changes to the system.

In the year ending September 2021, there was a notable uptick in the number of organisations looking to immigration solutions to fill labour shortages, with a 19% increase in the number of organisations registered as licenced sponsors with the Home Office, when compared to the previous year.

During the same period, more than 200,000 work-related visas were issued, the majority under the skilled worker route. This represents not only an increase on the previous years’ figures, but also an increase on pre-pandemic levels. This number includes applications from newly-arriving European Economic Area (EEA) migrants who would previously have benefitted from visa-free employment through the UK’s membership of the EU. Many EEA nationals, resident in the UK by the end of the transitional period, will have been eligible to apply to remain under the European Settlement Scheme so this shows that there continues to be a clear need for EU workers.

As yet the Home Office’s figures do not show that employers are taking full advantage of this relaxation in the rules, with only a minority of visa applicants relying on jobs in the lower skill bandings. Amongst the roles being brought within the skilled worker route are senior care workers. The adult social care sector has been hit hard by the pandemic and has seen a huge increase in the number of vacancies that employers are struggling to fill. It has taken time for the sector to get to grips with the new system, but there has been a gradual increase in applications being made for senior care workers over the past year. Further changes are afoot in this sector following the Migration Advisory Committee’s urgent recommendation to the UK government that care workers be included in the shortage occupation list. The government has accepted this recommendation, with it being given effect with a change to the immigration rules on 15 February 2022. Albeit a temporary measure, this is a significant step by the government as it is the only occupation below the minimum skill threshold to be eligible for the skilled worker route.

Whilst these changes to UK migration policy bring various occupations within the scope of visa sponsorship, there are still various factors that will limit the uptake amongst employers. Employing a migrant workforce can be a costly exercise. There are various outgoings, including the costs of obtaining a sponsor licence, the visa costs, government surcharges, as well as legal and administrative costs. The cost can perhaps be prohibitive for smaller organisations, particularly when considering that they may also lack the capacity to manage their sponsorship duties and/or the specialist knowledge of the immigration system.

Employers looking to benefit from migrant workers need to plan ahead and be aware of the possible implications of doing so; sponsorship is not without its disadvantages but given today’s competitive jobs market, these may often be offset against the prospect of a role remaining unfilled, or incurring costs of using search agencies to fill the roles from the resident workforce.

Harper Macleod
Harper Macleod

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