Bosses told to try for UK workers before employing immigrant staff
By Jonathan Walker
The Birmingham Post
Apr 29 2008
Businesses will have to prove they cannot find suitable British workers before they are allowed to employ immigrant staff, under proposals to be launched by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.
Firms will be required to explain why they need to recruit from abroad before they can sponsor a foreign worker, under the Governments new points system.
Mr Byrne hopes to include the measures in the next stage of the Governments points system.
The system, based on a similar scheme in Australia, allocates points to potential immigrants based on their skills, and only those who reach a minimum numbers are allowed to work here.
Ministers say it ensures that only people with the skills British industry needs are able to emigrate to the UK.
Although the points scheme is already in operation for highly-skilled workers, details of how it will apply to skilled workers, the vast majority of immigrants, have yet to be announced.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) said he hoped to include measures offering greater protection to British workers.
He was speaking after business leaders in Birmingham warned that Britain needed to train its existing workforce instead of relying in immigrant labour.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce called on the Government to improve education and training in this country, to make it easier for businesses to recruit British staff.
But the Chamber also said firms should be free to recruit from overseas when needed.
Mr Byrne said: “I very much welcome the argument that migration shouldnt be used as a short-term fix by British businesses.
Government is boosting its spending in schools and we should be looking to fill vacancies with local workers first. Where there are severe shortages obviously business should be free to recruit from abroad but only if they try to fill vacancies locally first.
“We want independent advice on where it makes sense to hire from aborad.
“But my view is we need to strengthen protection for the British labour force as part of the changes we bring in with the point system.
“The points system will deliver a much stronger set of controls over business and the way they employ foreign workers.”
There is already an obligation on employers in some circumstances to look for British workers before recruiting from overseas, but they often do not apply.
The Chamber made its comments in a submission to the Migration Advisory Committee, a body created by Mr Byrne to provide independent and evidence-based advice to Government on where skilled labour market shortages exist that can be sensibly filled by migration.
The Government has said its immigration policy will be based partly on advice from business, but also on the advice of a separate body which looks at the effect of immigration on social cohesion and public services.
Kiran Virk, policy adviser at the Chamber, said: “While it is important to establish which sectors, and more accurately occupations, are suffering from a labour shortage, it is vital that the Government realises its focus should be on long-term planning to reduce the number of labour shortages, rather than focusing on short-term solutions.
“Producing lists of shortages would help to meet the immediate needs of businesses but it is far more important and more sustainable for the local and national economy, if a greater emphasis is placed on developing and nurturing the indigenous population through a strong sense of life-long learning”.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce represents almost 3,500 companies that employ over 170,000 people in Birmingham and Solihull.