REC provides evidence to House of Lords on STEM shortages and immigration

Filed under Blog

Thursday, 20 February 2014

By Gillian Econopouly, Senior Policy Consultant

Today the REC has submitted evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on international STEM graduates and the immigration rules affecting them.

Recent immigration changes have made it difficult for recruiters to place skilled graduates – and more experienced staff – into flourishing STEM fields like engineering, IT and life sciences. In many cases, this means roles go unfilled and companies cannot grow, which in turn stifles the creation of other jobs for UK workers.

Data from many sources demonstrate the scale of STEM skill shortages, including the REC’s monthly Report on Jobs. According to the latest survey, recruiters across the UK reported that engineering was the most in-demand sector for both permanent and temporary roles. Since February 2013, engineering topped the list nine times, and ranked in the top five in-demand sectors a total of 12 times.

Demand for staff has also remained high in IT and computing, which was ranked twice over the year as the most in-demand sector and was in the top five every single month. Other STEM fields like medical and accounting also consistently feature. 

Despite the economic evidence, UK companies cannot hire and retain the skilled graduates they need, even though many of them have completed relevant UK degrees. The government’s drive to cut immigration figures has led to scrapping key STEM visa routes like the Highly-Skilled Migrant/Tier 1 General Visa, and the Post-Study Work Visa. 

While clients (although not recruiters) can still apply to become visa sponsors for migrants in Tier 2 General (the old ‘Work Permit’ route), many are unwilling to risk the time, cost and effort of going through a complex process without the guarantee of being able to hire at the end. And recruiters’ hands are similarly tied, as they cannot place candidates without a valid visa.

Even where visas are granted, there are strict limits on how long skilled graduates can remain in the country. A new “cooling-off period” for those who have completed a Tier 2 visa means they have to return to their home countries for at least 12 months before applying to come back to the UK – despite the fact that British companies are often desperate to hire them.

The REC’s Technology and Engineering sector groups are mobilising around this issue and collecting evidence on how the shortages are affecting economic growth. To get involved, or share your experiences with the immigration rules, contact

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