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Tougher tests for migrant workers

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Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced measures to ‘raise the bar' for foreign workers wishing to enter the UK in a bid to give domestic workers a greater chance of applying first for UK jobs. The measures, which will come into effect from 1 April 2009, are intended to help British workers through the hard economic times of recession.

All workers coming to the UK from outside of the European Economic Area ("EEA") must meet the requirements of an Australian-style points based system, the first stages of which were rolled out in February 2008. This new system consolidated the many complex routes into the UK into just five tiers: Tier 1 (for highly skilled migrants), Tier 2 (for skilled migrants), Tier 3 (low-skilled workers), Tier 4 (student tier) and Tier 5 (temporary workers and youth mobility). Tiers 1, 2 and 5 were introduced in February 2008 and Tier 4 will be introduced at the end of March 2009.

Jacqui Smith has unveiled that from 1 April 2009, the Government will:

Shortage occupations are ones for which there are not enough resident workers to fill available jobs in particular sectors. Where a migrant is entering the UK to fill a job on the shortage occupation list, they automatically receive enough points to proceed. The intention of the new measures is to use the lists to identify where skills are lacking in the domestic workforce, so that the UK will be less dependent on migration in the future.

It is sometimes necessary for an employer to recruit a migrant from outside the resident work force to fill a particular vacancy that cannot be filled by a settled worker  and that is not on the list of shortage occupations. This is only possible if the employer has completed a ‘resident labour market test' and can show that no suitably qualified settled worker is available to fill the vacancy. This involves advertising the vacancy in a specific publication or on the internet and for a specific time e.g. where the position has a salary of £40,000 per annum or under, for a minimum of two weeks. The new measures will require all jobs to be advertised through Job Centre Plus.

In order to obtain sufficient ‘points' under the new system, migrant workers must meet certain criteria based on their qualifications, earnings, UK experience and age. The new measures outlined by Jacqui Smith suggest raising the qualifications to a Masters degree (applicants currently receive 30 points for a bachelor's degree and 35 points for a Master's) and introducing a minimum salary requirement of £20,000 (currently £16,000).

The Government has already suspended the introduction of Tier 3 to ensure that foreign nationals from outside the EEA cannot come to the UK and work in a low-skilled job. These latest measures are expected to cut the number of skilled workers receiving visas from 26,000 to 14,000. Further changes to the immigration system and tougher controls are expected later in the year.

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