The incoming pay threshold for non-European workers could cause chaos for the education sector. Under the new rules, introduced in 2011 but coming into effect next April, workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be forced out of the UK after six years if they don’t reach earnings of at least £35,000. The Home Office has indicated that the change was made with a view to reducing the demand for migrant labour, but it effectively means that money employers have directed towards recruitment and training in the meantime has gone to waste. Tijen Ahmet, Immigration Solicitor at SA Law, discusses the issue.
The government’s ongoing objectives to reduce the demand for migrant labour continues and four years on from the series of major consultations including an employment related settlement, a new salary threshold for all Tier 2 (General) migrants applying for settlement will be introduced from April 2016.
Tier 2 migrants are essentially skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area who are being sponsored by UK businesses and organisations for continuing employment. At present where a Tier 2 (General) migrant has completed a continuous five year residence in the UK under this category they will be eligible, subject to meeting all the requirements of the rules, to apply for settlement otherwise known as indefinite leave to remain in the UK. If they do not apply for settlement for whatever reason, they will have no option but to leave the UK before or when their sixth year is completed.
The challenge that these particular skilled migrants will face is the requirement to be paid at least £35,000 gross per annum. The Government has said that this salary threshold will remain in place for two years from April 2016. On or after April 2019 the threshold will be held at £35,800 and after April 2020, Tier 2 migrants will be subject to an increased minimum annual salary requirement of £36,200 when they apply for settlement. Whilst there are exceptions for individuals sponsored to do jobs that appear or have appeared on the list of PhD-level occupation codes or published shortage occupation list, the impact on recruitment for certain sectors could be astronomical.
To fan the flames, temporary permission to remain under Tier 2 in the UK is capped at six years after which they would be forced to the leave the UK. Putting myself in the shoes of the migrant, I would find this difficult to digest after having paid my taxes, worked hard, adapted to life here with my family and been compliant with the rules all the way through to then be told that we must leave the UK; some would argue this is a wasted investment in the round.
The salary threshold rules demonstrate the government’s current conflict. Ministers accept that our economy needs skilled migrants to work at levels below £35,000 a year yet the barrier the government has chosen is well above the national average minimum wage of approximately £26,000. The implications of the migrant salary rules will undoubtedly have an undesirable impact on our economy and remain unfair for individual migrants, but most notably cause immense difficulties for employers who will wish to retain their staff.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has recently openly raised their concerns over their experienced nurses not being able to meet the salary threshold at a time of great demand for labour. The
RCN suggested the damaging effect of the new regime could “cause chaos” for the NHS, though unfortunately it is unlikely that only the NHS will be adversely affected. The teaching profession will also take a knockback with overseas trained and qualified teachers’ salaries falling considerably below the £35,000 threshold. While there will be no impact on those occupations where there is currently a shortage of labour such as mathematics, chemistry and physics teachers, head teachers have already raised fears that substantial numbers of valued, talented and skilled staff will be forced to leave the UK.
The National Association for Head Teacher’s (NAHT) concerns mirror the RCN’s; the general secretary of NAHT, Russell Hobbs, said “Head teachers everywhere are struggling to recruit. Pupil
numbers are rising. Budgets are being squeezed all the time. In the face of these challenges, it seems counterproductive to force out valued members of staff for the sake of meeting a migration target”. But with the Home Secretary and Prime Minister remaining silent at present in response to the criticism, whether such voices will be heard and action taken remains to be seen.
The Home Office say that employers have had four years to prepare for these changes but the reality is that unless salary levels for teachers are revised in line with the government’s tough immigration policies we will lose our skilled migrant teachers. Even more damagingly, foreign teachers choosing their next destination will be deterred from seeking work in the UK, in turn resulting in a labour shortage further down the line.
However, despite qualified teachers in maintained schools currently earning a minimum of £21,804, rising to £27,270 in inner London, last year’s performance-related pay system could offer some cause for optimism. Under the new system, rather than the time-based system implemented before, teachers are expected to earn substantially more than the £35,000 threshold within an estimated five to eight years compared with twelve years as previously. This ties in with the five year continuous residence period required for settlement under the immigration rules and will not will not therefore have a detrimental effect on the education sector. It may even attract more graduates to the profession from the UK as well as overseas, driving up the quality of teaching as a whole.
It has been suggested in some quarters that we should not rely on migrant workers and train more UK based graduates into the education sector. Another source of trained foreign teaching staff could be the European Economic Area, where recruitment is not restricted. In any case, with less than a year to prepare, institutions need to adapt their employment strategies moving forward and put measures in place to retain those talented teaching professionals.
Tijen Ahmet, Immigration Solicitor at SA Law