The Home Secretary's Conservative Conference Speech and understanding the Resident Labour Market Test

Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, recently gave a speech where she discussed in vague terms the ‘resident labour market test’.

She said:

“...I can announce today, we will shortly be consulting on the next steps needed to control immigration. We will be looking across work and study routes. This will include examining whether we should tighten the test companies have to take before recruiting from abroad.

British businesses have driven the economic recovery in this country, with employment at record levels. However we still need to do more … so all British people get the opportunities they need to get on in life. The test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do. But it’s become a tick box exercise, allowing some firms to get away with not training local people. We won’t win in the world if we don’t do more to upskill our own workforce. It’s not fair on companies doing the right thing. So I want us to look again at whether our immigration system provides the right incentives for businesses to invest in British workers.”

I can only assume the Home Secretary is discussing the resident labour market test. What is extremely perturbing is the way this is discussed, which is either inadvertently misleading, or deliberately so. Neither is good.

Under the current system, in general with some limited exceptions, a UK business can only sponsor a migrant worker to undertake a role which is designated at ‘NQF6’ or above. There is a list of these roles here. As can be seen, NQF6 roles are distinguished by being at degree level or above. Here is a flavour of the types of roles:

1123 Production managers and directors in mining and energy

Operations manager (mining, water & energy) Quarry manager

1131 Financial managers and directors

Investment banker Treasury manager

1136 Information technology and telecommunications directors

IT Director Technical director (computer services) Telecommunications director

2121 Civil engineers

Building engineer Civil engineer (professional) Highways engineer Petroleum engineer Public health engineer Site engineer Structural engineer

2122 Mechanical engineers

Aeronautical engineer (professional) Aerospace engineer Automotive engineer (professional) Marine engineer (professional) Mechanical engineer (professional)

2136 Programmers and software development professionals

Analyst-programmer Database developer Games programmer Programmer Software engineer

2211 Medical practitioners

Anaesthetist Consultant (Hospital Service) Doctor General practitioner Medical practitioner Paediatrician Psychiatrist Radiologist Surgeon

2421 Chartered and certified accountants

Accountant (qualified) Auditor (qualified) Chartered accountant Company accountant Cost accountant (qualified) Financial controller (qualified) Management accountant (qualified)

2431 Architects

Architect Architectural consultant Chartered architect Landscape architect

2463 Environmental health professionals

Air pollution inspector Environmental health officer Food inspector Public health inspector Technical officer (environmental health)

3512 Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

Airline pilot First officer (airlines) Flight engineer Flying instructor Helicopter pilot

 

Hopefully this gives enough of a flavour. It’s easy to see that the vast majority of roles would require a specific technical university degree and often a great deal of experience.

If a business wants to sponsor a foreign migrant they must first, again with some exceptions, advertise the position nationally, giving full disclosure of the skills required, the location, salary and terms. They must then justify not appointing any suitably qualified UK worker who applies with a transparent recruitment process.

The system intrinsically requires at a minimum certain academic qualifications to be held by an applicant; it is extremely difficult to understand how making that system more restrictive will somehow magically provide these qualifications to unqualified British people. The core thrust of the speech is that restricting the system will then lead to an ‘upskilling’ or investment in British workers by UK companies.

This just seems divorced from reality. The vast majority of jobs that can be sponsored are entirely unsuitable for this concept. You cannot ‘upskill’ a person lacking a technical or professional qualification to perform a key role, except with great difficulty in some examples.

It is very difficult to understand how preventing a UK company from appointing a suitably qualified foreign professional to a vacancy they have will somehow spur them on to, having lost out on a required worker and possibly suffered damage to their business, then invest in an unqualified worker for a likely prolonged period.

If you have a vacancy for an aircraft engineer and a British person applies without an engineering degree, what should happen? The company is forced to somehow appoint them and ‘train on the job’? Perhaps pay for their degree and hold off for 4 years? This is just fantasy.

It would be far more understandable if Tier 2 (the system for which the resident labour market test is applicable) allowed the sponsorship of lower skilled roles, which would feasibly be conducive to on the job training, but as the Home Secretary should know it is not possible to sponsor for these roles (except in some limited examples) in the first place.

The Home Secretary stated “the test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do. But it’s become a tick box exercise, allowing some firms to get away with not training local people”. The reality is that the test is far from a tick box exercise. It is onerous and in terms of appropriate recruitment practices for selection barely explained in official policy documents. Once the required advertising has been completed it is up to the employer how they go about selecting the best candidate. In my experience any foreign national has been appointed under this system because they are head and shoulders the best applicant. Why should a business appoint a sub-standard candidate because they have the correct nationality? This is just crazy.

Indeed that is the key. The system is already so onerous, complex and expensive that the only employers who would bother with it are those who desperately need non-EEA workers for technical roles because they cannot find suitably qualified UK workers. I find it extremely difficult to understand how making the resident labour market test more onerous is going to somehow resolve a skills shortage in our country.