The date that has everyone concerned in the UK at the moment is, of course, 29thMarch 2019. This date marks the two years since the Prime Minister invoked Article 50, the process by which the UK will leave the EU. Once this has taken place, those citizens of the EU member states who wish to move to the UK and work here will find themselves subject to the Immigration Rules for non-Eu migrants. 

There are nearly 5.7 million people employed in the engineering sector in one form or another at the moment in the UK. That figure represents just over 19% of the total UK employment; a considerable percentage. While it is difficult to pin down exactly what percentage of this figure are EU nationals one thing is clear there is likely to be a shortage in the engineering skills gap following Brexit. It is estimated that there is already a shortfall of around 20,000 professionals in the industry and this number is expected to rise to over 180,000 each year until at least 2022. Because of this those professions within Civil, Process, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering have now been placed on the Shortage Occupation List in the UK.

One of the most recent white papers on Brexit published back in July, made very little mention with regards to future immigration policies. In fact, there were only 20 paragraphs in the document, which was over 100 pages in length that even used the work. While little mention was made in the white paper, there have been some propositions made regarding the government's intentions to the engineering sector post-Brexit day.

Work Visas

While the paper makes no specific mention of work visas, it does mention Intra-company transfer. Under the Tier 2 Visa category, this is a visa route that is already in operation, so it is indeed nothing new. The intra-company transfer allows long-term staff members and graduates who work for multinational companies to make a transfer to the UK branch of their company. This type of transfer carries specific requirements regarding income and grasp of English Language. The company also need to obtain a Sponsorship Licence which makes it similar to other Tier 2 employment routes.

With this route, in particular, being mentioned it would seem that the government intends to consolidate migration from the EU into the current process for visas. However, this year alone the monthly quota has been reached more than once, which suggests that real changes may need to be made.

Currently, the UK cap on skilled worker numbers, for all sectors, not just engineering, has an annual quota of 20,700. There are a fixed number of spaces available each month, 1,725, and this number had only ever been exceeded once since the cap was put in place in 2011 by the then home secretary Theresa May. However, in both December 2018 and January 2019 the cap has been reached and exceeded.

Those companies that currently employ EU migrants, but not workers from outside the EU, it is highly likely that they will now need to obtain Sponsorship Licences in order to continue employing people from overseas.

This will be a critical consideration that they will need to remember when finding the best candidate for a job because without the correct sponsorship they will not be able to enter the UK workforce.

What does sponsorship involve:

  • Detailed records of the working activity of all migrant employees must be kept
  • Certificate of Sponsorship must be organised
  • The Sponsor Management System (SMS) must be used correctly
  • The salary that is offered must be above the income requirement
  • The Resident Labour Market Test must be undertaken

Youth Mobility

The paper has also made mention of the Youth Mobility Scheme. This is something that already operates in both Canada and Australia. Under the scheme young people who are aged 18-30 are eligible to come to the UK for a temporary period even if they are not in receipt of a job offer. This would make hiring workers in this country who have this type of visa much more straightforward as there will be no need to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship for them to begin work. Under these circumstances' employers will still however be required to ensure that all data regarding migrants; absences, changes in visa status are recorded while they are actively in work. 

This could prove to be a significant consideration for the engineering industry in the months ahead. Of the students who study engineering in the UK, 28% doing first degree courses are not from the UK, and of those studying postgraduate taught courses, 69% are not from the UK. While in terms of actually employees this number might not be enough to fill the shortfall it may go a long way towards significantly helping to reduce what is already, and will continue to be so to an even more alarming extent, the massive gap in the engineering skills gap.

It would appear that at the moment the government is intending to keep the visa system almost as it is in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s exit from the EU. The information that is contained within this white paper is just a proposal. It is expected that there will be more information available later on with the new white paper on immigration. However, the talks with the EU that are still ongoing, even at this late stage could shed a lot more light on the situation and provide some much needed clarity for those people in the engineering industry, particularly those employers who are concerned that they may find themselves facing serious shortfalls in highly skilled and qualified employees.

Brexit is really just such a short time away now, a mere four weeks, and businesses have been gearing up for the new immigration processes that they believe will be imposed. This is the best bet that they have at the moment to familiarise themselves entirely with the current system. However, even at this late stage, nothing to do with Brexit has been set in concrete, and there is still so much that we are not sure about.