The UK is considering relaxing the rules under which IT-related roles can be offered to foreign workers.
The UK Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is recommending that the government eases regulations on hiring non-European data scientists, senior developers, cyber security specialists and product managers. The MAC is an independent body that advises government on migration issues.
Rules would be loosened so employers no longer have to demonstrate they have tried to fill the job domestically before recruiting workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Currently employers must prove they have advertised a job in the UK for 28 days and were unable to find a suitable worker.
However, the MAC recommends that only start-up companies should be able to recruit from abroad in this fashion, stating it failed to receive much evidence from large tech firms that they are suffering from a skills shortage.
“Any significant shortages within the sector, on the basis of the evidence we received, seem presently to mainly be confined to firms at the start-up/scale-up end,” the report states, adding that start-ups lack the resources that larger firms use to recruit foreign workers.
Not everyone the MAC spoke to agreed there is a digital skills shortage. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed said many jobs could be filled by workers on a contract basis, rather than by permanent employees.
“They considered that employers were not making full use of the existing Resident Labour Market test route to recruit from outside the EEA, nor were they drawing on existing skills.”
The MAC report also questions some of the trends that appear to indicate a skills shortage, such as pay for Java developers rising as high as £55,000, as individuals chose careers as contractors over a company employee.
“It does beg the question to what extent are shortages actually the result of employers’ reluctance to pay the higher wages commanded by contractors; and the extent to which they wish to avoid paying this by recruiting more directly employed staff,” it said.