For now, the government are saying yes to seasonal agricultural workers, but no to post-study work visas for overseas students.
Following the government's announcement of a two-year pilot scheme that will allow farmers to hire seasonal workers from overseas for up to six months it had been hoped that the government might be willing to listen to representations from other sectors on immigration schemes which would assist them. However, calls for the re-introduction of post-study work visas were rejected by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) this week, so hopes of a new soft stance on immigration were short-lived.
On 6 September, the government announced a pilot scheme which will allow 2,500 non-EU workers to be employed in the UK to assist with labour shortages being experienced by farmers during peak production periods.
The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said, "This 2 year pilot will ease the workforce pressures faced by farmers during busy times of the year. We will review the pilot’s results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU."
The MAC, the body which advise the government on immigration policy, published their report, International students in the UK, on 11 September, which appears to have crushed hopes for the creation of a new post-study work visa in the immediate future.
In their report, the MAC confirmed that they will not be recommending the reintroduction of a post-study work visa, however, they did recommend that there be a "proper evaluation" of what students are doing in the post-study period and when they move into other immigration categories. The MAC confirmed that their recommendation could change if the results of such an evaluation warranted a longer post-study work period.
The report will be disappointing news for Universities UK who, only the previous week, had called for the government to reintroduce a two-year post-study work visa. It is widely believed that this would assist UK universities to continue to compete with their biggest rivals such as the USA, Australia, France and Germany, whose international student numbers all continue to grow at a faster rate than the UK's.
The MAC are expected to publish another report on around 18 September, this one looking at the impact of EU nationals on the UK economy. Other sectors will therefore be interested to see how recommendations in that report might affect them. The government's long-awaited White Paper on immigration is also expected soon.
The debate on what the UK's future immigration system should look like continues to rage so all employers, particularly those who rely on foreign nationals in their workforce, will need to keep an eye on future recommendations and proposals and take into account how these might affect them.