Skilled migrants in the UK make positive contributions to innovation and business operations through their advanced technical knowledge and niche skills, a new research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has revealed.
The research found that strategically important sectors in the UK have above average shares of university graduates and people classified in professional occupations. Non-EEA migrants employed by these sectors contribute disproportionately to the already high levels of skilled employees.
It also emerged that the majority of skilled migrants are brought into the UK as internal transfers within multinational firms. The evidence suggests that high-skilled migrants often possess language skills and knowledge of foreign markets and culture which are rarely found among high-skilled residents. They also frequently make positive contributions to innovation and productivity performance.
A number of employers said they had experienced shortages of strategically important skills. This was principally because these skills were in short supply rather than because of retention problems or poor strategic planning. Some of the reasons for these shortages included the lack of high calibre UK graduates in technical subjects such as mathematics and engineering and the difficulty of finding individuals who possessed a combination of technical, language and cultural skills.
Skill shortages resulted in reduced productivity, delays to contracts and the need to sub-contract work which could be carried out in-house.
The research revealed that organisations were taking a number of measures to address skills shortages, such as training of graduates, school-leavers and other entrants, as well the ongoing up-skilling and development of existing staff at different stages of their careers.
Employers recruited migrants from outside of the European Union (EU) to meet high level skill needs, where these could not be met from within the UK or the EU. However, there was little evidence that they recruited migrants as an alternative to investing in the recruitment and training of resident workers. Rather, skilled migrants are required for skills that are hard to find or develop in the UK.
Employers and stakeholders argued that, while there may be some scope to reduce levels of non-EEA recruitment, this requires long-term, consistent investment in training.
Changes to Higher Education were considered necessary to address the shortage of high calibre graduates in technical subjects and gaps were identified in courses in some strategic skill areas.
However, even with these changes, the recruitment of skilled migrants was seen as necessary in some areas of work, with employers referring to other benefits of employing non-EEA migrants.
The benefits of employing non-EEA migrants, according to the employers, included improving workforce diversity, bringing different perspectives and experiences to the workplace as well as language skills and distinct technical and cultural knowledge.
These qualities were seen as vital for the operation of global businesses.
Employers were concerned about the impact of further restrictions on skilled migrant workers. These included possible further reductions in Tier 2 allocations and limits on intra-company transfers, the closure of the Post-Study Work route from April this year and new restrictions on settlement which could be prohibitive to recruiting and retaining skilled staff.
These changes were seen as bad for business and for the UK economy, potentially leading to lost contracts, reductions in knowledge and skills transfer and to relocation of some business activities outside of the UK.