According to the Migration Advisory Committee, the government has indicated that it wants to automatically remove from the Shortage Occupation List all jobs that have been on it for more than two years.
This would include dozens of science-related occupations, including geochemists, mining engineers, paediatricians and science and maths teachers.
Recruitment in occupations on the list is made simpler and more reliable as employers, when recruiting from outside Europe, do not need to demonstrate why there is no suitable UK or EU worker for the job. The measure is intended to provide temporary relief while efforts are made to mitigate any shortages in the UK workforce.
But in a letter to immigration minister Mark Harper, backed by Research Councils UK, the Royal Society and a number of eminent academics, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Imran Khan, stressed that removing jobs after two years was far too short a timescale.
“We appreciate that the government wishes to accelerate progress towards self-sufficiency…for such skills. However, two years is simply far too short a timescale for even beginning to address structural problems with the UK’s workforce,” reads the letter, published on 14 January.
RCUK estimates that it takes seven to eight years to progress from gaining a PhD to the first steps in an independent career. In total it can take 17 years to become a specialist, and training also often requires more senior skilled migrants, adds the letter.
Sophie Lauren, director of RCUK International told Times Higher Education that the move would mean the UK may be prevented from hiring in many strategically important fields, without being able to fill that gap with UK workers.
“[In research] we’ve seen a huge increase in the desire to work internationally, which means people coming over here and us going overseas, so we would like to have as few barriers as possible to that movement,” she added.
The government has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to consult on the proposals, including on whether such as sunset clause should be introduced and whether exceptions should be permitted. Results of the review are expected to be published next month.