Thousands Of Chiefs Unprepared For Change

Thousands of chiefs unprepared for change

By Andrew Taylor and Sara-Christine Gemson
Published: October 29 2008 02:00
Last updated: October 29 2008 02:00

Thousands of employers are likely to miss next month's deadline to comply with new rules allowing them to recruit skilled migrant workers from outside the European Union, according to employment experts.

By the beginning of last week only 700 employers had successfully registered to become official sponsors, allowing them to recruit migrants. Up to 20,000 companies had been expected to apply, said Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at consultants PwC.

She said that only 3,500 companies had applied to register by the beginning of October. This was the last date on which the new UK Border Agency could guarantee that employers would be licensed in time for the launch, on November 27, of the next stage in a new immigration points system.

From next month employers will only be able to recruit workers in professions where there is a skill shortage identified by a new Migration Advisory Committee or if they have advertised a job without success in the UK. Workers will have to accumulate points based on their qualifications, earnings, English language skills and ability to support themselves and their dependents, Phil Woolas, immigration minister, said at a CBI employers' group conference on immigration.

Mr Woolas has been criticised for suggesting migration policy should be used to prevent Britain's population rising to 70m. He denied yesterday he supported a cap on immigration saying he had merely been pointing out that population growth could be controlled by adjusting the points requirement to meet prevailing economic demand.

Ms Onslow-Cole said that doubts over future recruitment needs might be one reason why some employers had not applied to become sponsors. Business leaders, however, criticised the government for giving employers insufficient time to get to grips with the new rules.

Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways and CBI president, complained that official guidance had been published only last month. This had left “scant time for firms to adapt”.

The CBI did welcome the government's decision to relax rules requiring skilled workers to maintain at least 800 in their bank accounts for three months before being allowed into Britain. Companies would now only have to pledge that workers could support themselves.

The Home Office said last night only several thousand companies had applied but it had “been working very hard to make sure businesses are aware of the changes including a national TV and newspaper advertising campaign”.