Keeping costs down key to realising vision of new immigration system, say small firms, as Government maps position

Press Releases 19 Feb 2020

FSB responds to the Government's new policy statement on immigration.

  • New Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) research reveals that ability to use English tops employer wish list; half of small businesses would struggle to afford current tier 2 visa costs
  • A quarter of small employers have at least one member of staff from the EU; more than half say majority of their EU employees fall into “medium” or “high skilled” categories
  • UK’s largest business group calls for additional points for those planning to work outside London and the South East, and a dedicated social care visa

Plans to be unveiled by the Government today will provide an outline of the UK’s new points-based immigration system. It is expected to rule out the availability of a temporary visa route and commit to awarding additional points to applicants who can speak English to a certain level, have a job offer, or can contribute to sectors where skills shortages exist.

The Government is set to implement a salary threshold for those with a UK job offer of £25,600.

New FSB findings – included in a report to be released in the coming days – show that small employers rank proficiency in English as the most important quality in a new employee, putting it above work experience or qualifications when asked to rank typically sought after traits.

It will also reveal that when business owners with EU staff were asked about which skill categories the majority of their EU staff fall into, around four in ten (41%) responded ‘low skilled’, while the rest (59%) responded ‘medium skilled’ or ‘high skilled’.

Close to four in ten (38%) small employers have struggled to recruit the right staff over the past year, with four in ten (42%) of these firms citing a challenge in finding the right skills as a reason for this struggle, and more than a third (35%) flagging the unwillingness of UK citizens to work in their sector.

The fresh research finds that a quarter (26%) of small employers have at least one member of staff from the EU (excluding those from the Republic of Ireland). The figure is up six percentage points since FSB surveyed its membership regarding the importance of European employees in the wake of the EU referendum.

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “We see the benefits of a points-based model, so long as it’s one that’s easy to use and affordable for small businesses – almost all of which have no experience of using our current immigration system.

“Against a backdrop of stifling skills shortages, sluggish economic growth and an ageing population, it’s critical that we get this right, particularly as the timeframes are so short.

“It’s important that we see a focus on simplicity and cost control. As things stand, the cost of sponsoring a Tier 2 visa to a small employer can top £3,000. We should be looking to keep that figure below £1,000, to enable firms to invest in jobs and training.

“And we should protect access to the skills small firms need to thrive. We know that small employers rank proficiency in English as the most important quality in a new employee.

“It should be a system that supports all communities. Additional points should be awarded to those planning to work outside of London and the South East.

“Typically small firms that recruit from the EU do so into medium or high skilled roles. We know that many of those roles do not have salaries of £30,000 or more, so it’s good to see the MAC and Government responding to our concerns in this area.

“It’s right that additional points are awarded for those with skills relevant to industries struggling with shortages. However, there are also many jobs in the care and construction sectors that may not meet skill requirements but are essential to our economy and society.

“That’s why we’re proposing a new dedicated social care visa, in recognition of the chronic personnel shortages in this crucial sector and the fact that it will take 15 years for us to train enough UK citizens to address those shortages.

“Ultimately, small firms want a responsive immigration system that is alive to the skills shortages – at all levels – that are holding them back.

“They want to have a role in upskilling their workforce and bringing through the next generation. But that will be a long journey – we can’t be expected to make it overnight.

“Equally, the EU contractors that contribute so much to our economy should still have the freedom to offer their vital skill sets in the UK.”

Ends

Note to Editors
1) FSB surveyed 1,083 small businesses in October 2019 – it will be publishing a report on its full findings in the coming days.

Media contact

Matt Dickinson

Matt Dickinson

Deputy Head of Media & Communications

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About FSB

As the UK’s largest business support group, FSB is the voice of the UK’s small businesses and the self-employed. Established over 40 years ago to help its members succeed in business, FSB is a non-profit making and non-party political organisation that’s led by its members, for its members. As the UK’s leading business campaigner, FSB is focused on delivering change which supports smaller businesses to grow and succeed.

FSB offers members a wide range of vital business services, including access to finance, business banking, legal advice and support along with a powerful voice in Government. Each year FSB also runs the UK’s Celebrating Small Business Awards. More information is available at www.fsb.org.uk. You can follow us on twitter @fsb_policy and on Instagram @fsb_uk.