Conservative manifesto pledge: Double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2,000 to reinvest in FE and skills

Steven Woolfe argues FOR

I welcome the Conservative pledge to double the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) to £2,000 per applicant.

In many respects, our immigration policy has been filling in the gaps for many flaws within our education system. For far too long, net immigration has been running at levels which are simply unsustainable. There are many complex reasons for this, but one factor is that we have been over reliant on oversees labour for far too long.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Nothing within our immigration system is unchangeable. Brexit presents a golden opportunity to implement further policy changes on immigration.

With this opportunity, I passionately believe that not only do we need a change of policy on immigration, but also a change of philosophy and thinking.

And part of that means accepting that continuing to be reliant on foreign labour is not sustainable for the UK or its future workforce.

This is why I support the proposed doubling of the ISC in the Conservative manifesto for those who enter under a Tier 2 (skilled) visa.

This proposal was first suggested by the Migration Advisory Committee last year, which is made up not of politicians like me, but independent appointees working towards a remit set by the government of the day. It suggested an initial fee of £1,000 which was introduced earlier this year.

It’s important to note that this does not stop the right of UK companies to hire migrants from abroad, but it provides an incentive to recruit directly from talent pools in the UK.

This charge will not stop doctors or nurses coming to the UK, nor workers from some other skill sectors where we have a short-term shortage, but it will ensure that a company has to explore every avenue before deciding to employ someone from abroad. It will also encourage companies to recruit and possibly train native workers into the role, which in some cases will be cheaper than paying the ISC.

The introduction of the ISC marks a significant turning point and shift in immigration policy for the long term.

The reality is, our education system in many respects is failing to create a workforce for the UK in the 21st century. This needs to change and reinvesting the funds from this charge into more skills training is a good start (although the manifesto pledge gives little detail specifically on where and how the money will be spent).

Net immigration has been running at levels which are simply unsustainable

Let’s have a look at the numbers to see how much potential revenue could be raised from a £2,000 skills charge. Last year, the UK accepted just under 94,000 Tier 2 level visas. If this level stayed the same, a £2,000 visa charge could raise £188 million per annum to reinvest in skills and education.

However, this number could be considerably different depending on when the £2,000 charge is implemented. If the charge is levied after the UK has left the European Union (and the Single Market), the sort of immigration system the UK adopts post Brexit in relation to EU countries will determine levels of Tier 2 visas in the future.

Broadly speaking, I imagine EU migrants post Brexit will be treated under the same set of rules as non-EU, meaning Tier 2 is likely to be higher in the short term. However (and especially if the ISC increases over time) Tier 2 visas may decrease organically as more companies employ and train native workers in the long term.

Those that want a complete open border are just as wrong as those that want to pull up the drawbridge. Both of those options are simply not feasible or even desirable for the UK on all levels. I want to see an immigration system that strikes the right balance and that incentivises businesses to employ home-reared talent.

 

Steven Woolfe is an Independent Member of European Parliament for North West England, a former barrister and author of ‘Fair, Flexible, Forward Thinking Immigration Policy’. You can find him on Twitter at @Steven_Woolfe