Liz Truss is drawing up plans to make it easier for companies to bring in talented staff from overseas for short-term placements in the UK as employers complain about post-Brexit labour shortages in multiple industries.
The new prime minister is keen to streamline “intra-company transfers” under which a multinational company moves a skilled worker into the UK from abroad on a temporary basis, according to her allies.
At the same time she wants to crack down on “unskilled” immigration and is concerned about an influx of people entering the country as relatives of overseas students, said the allies.
Business groups including TheCityUK, a trade body, have complained about the bureaucracy and costs for employers using intra-company transfers, despite recent efforts by ministers to streamline the arrangements. Companies must pay an “immigration skills charge” of £1,000 a year.
Business leaders have also pushed for reciprocal youth mobility arrangements with the EU along the lines of a scheme which allows adults aged under 30 from Australia, Canada and New Zealand to live and work in the UK for up to two years.
Miles Celic, chief executive of TheCityUK, said multinational companies in the financial services sector would find the government’s planned move “hugely reassuring” for the future of their operations in the UK.
Celic said restoring the ability to move staff in and out of London had been a priority for international banks, insurers and asset managers since Brexit.
“As an international financial capital we need to be able to attract the best talent from around the world to stay competitive,” he added. “It will be beneficial to the UK.”
The CBI, the UK’s largest employer organisation, said it looked forward to seeing details of the government’s plans.
“Skills and labour shortages are the top issue facing many firms, so any moves to make it easier for businesses to hire the people they need to succeed will be a step in the right direction,” said a CBI spokesman.
Meanwhile, Truss has ordered a review of the UK visa system to tackle labour shortages in certain industries, despite resistance from home secretary Suella Braverman and other cabinet ministers who want tight restraints on immigration.
The prime minister wants to update the government’s “shortage occupation list” that allows certain industries to bring in staff from overseas.
Truss is also poised to lift a cap on the number of people from abroad who work each year on UK farms after the agriculture industry said it was short of staff.
Braverman said on the eve of the Conservative party conference that there were “too many low-skilled workers” entering the UK and that many were “piggybacking” as family members of overseas students.
Home Office data show a fivefold increase in the number of dependants accompanying students to the UK over the past three years. Out of 486,000 student visas issued in the year to June 2022, some 81,000 were granted to dependants of those studying in Britain, compared to just 16,000 in 2019.
Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford university’s Migration Observatory, said the fivefold increase was partly a result of growth in students from India and Nigeria, who tended to bring more dependants.
Braverman used her Tory conference speech to pledge the government would use “every tool at our disposal” to stem the number migrants crossing the Channel to the UK in small boats.