We are all alert to the fact the when the UK leaves the EU there will be a considerable skills shortage especially in relation to low skilled labour as we see the end of freemovement.
But the burning question is how to set out a legitimate & workable framework in which to address the needs of the UK and take the opportunity to address regional specific problems.
One such solution which has been previously researched is that of a Regional visa programme which could infact present the UK with a unique immigration system that is capable of meeting the requirements of UK business and the economy in life post Brexit. A regional visa system could actually lead to economic development in areas which will be ( if not already ) hardest hit as the reality of Brexit approaches.
Such a system could allow regions to correctly identify skills and shortages and for regional participation in addressing the direct labour market. It could infact lead to a more positive attitude towards immigration as regions will
Be able to control and develop their own solutions to specifically support their region and businesses. Businesses would be able to remain competitive by identifying their own workforce and employment requirements. A regional visa could also assist with the demographic challenges facing the UK in light of an aging population and reduced workforce and allow regions to have more direct input to the necessary logistics and infrastructure.
A regional visa system could for example follow the already established Sponsor licence regime but the regional businesses would apply for a regional sponsor licence for the employment of lower skilled migrants. It would place fairly stringent requirements on businesses to embrace the regional visa system not to mention the actual control of it by Home Office and Government but it would allow regions to take control of their own workforce requirements and demands addressing the resident & local labour markets. If businesses were to work with local authorities in addressing the skills shortages then arguably the local authority could sanction the request for the licence making the system less cumbersome for processing at ground control of Home Office. Stakeholders within each identified region could meet either every 6 month period to review the identified skill shortages or simply on an ad hoc basis as businesses identify their changing needs.
It will be recognised that there was a previous attempt at a regional visa, being the Fresh Talent in Scotland Visa regime which was ultimately abandoned in June 2008 being replaced by the Post Study Work visa. This failed due to the difficulties in exercising control and enforceability. It was neither employer nor sector specific. Lessons could be learnt and taken forward with new enthusiasm.
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