Tier 2 Immigration skills charge

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 16 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“No Tier 2 Immigration skills charge will be payable on an individual who is an EEA or Swiss national and is coming to the UK to work for the NHS.”—(Holly Lynch.)

This new clause would exempt NHS employers from having to pay the immigration skills charge.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Llafur, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 35—Immigration skills charge—

“No Immigration skills charge introduced under section 70A of the Immigration Act 2014, or by regulations thereunder, may be charged in respect of an individual who is an EEA or Swiss national coming to work in the UK.”

This new clause ensures no skills charge can be levied in respect of EEA or Swiss nationals coming to work in the UK.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I rise to speak in support of new clause 22, tabled in the name of the shadow Home Secretary, myself and my Committee colleagues. The new clause would exempt NHS employers from having to pay the immigration skills charge.

As I have already stressed in my attempts to win support for other new clauses, the NHS workforce has historically relied on the support of professionals from across the world coming to the UK. In recent decades, that has included a supply of EU nationals. Nearly 10% of doctors, 8% of social care staff and 6% of nurses working in the UK are from EEA countries.

As things stand, NHS trusts pay the skills charge for those coming to work in the NHS from countries outside the EU and will be expected to pay those costs for those coming from EU countries after free movement ends. The immigration skills charge is effectively a skills tax paid by employers who have recruited from overseas instead of from the domestic workforce, to act as a disincentive and to promote recruitment from a local talent pool. That is fair enough, but in the context of the NHS, levelling the tax on NHS trusts is nothing short of an outrage.

If trusts cannot find clinical specialists here in the UK, they have no choice but to find them from overseas. The UK has a number of clinical skills shortages in many specialist areas and, in the absence of any Government strategy to respond to that domestically, the NHS has to hire from overseas.

We have already heard a lot about Brian Bell’s contribution to the evidence session last week. He gave the example of the nurse shortage. He said:

“often the shortage occupation list identifies a failure of the British education system to provide the people who are needed. A classic example of that is nurses. Nurses have been on the shortage occupation list since I can remember ever hearing of it. Every time they are put on the list, we hear statements along the lines of, ‘Yes, we know that they are in shortage, and we have a plan to increase the number of nurses who go through training so that we deal with the shortage in the long run.’ They are still on the shortage occupation list. We should be using the shortage occupation list to signal both to Government and to employers that there are training needs that need to be fulfilled.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 24, Q49.]

An NHS trust cannot unilaterally decide to train more nurses from the domestic labour force if it is struggling to recruit; it needs Government intervention to deliver the uplift.

In the MAC’s 2019 full review of the shortage occupation list, where all doctors were added to the list, under section 4B on health occupations, the review was keen to stress that

“the rise in vacancies and concern over lack of staff has occurred under freedom of movement and during a period when many health occupations have been on the SOL. Ultimately it will take more effective workforce planning and efforts to increase the flows into health professions (and decrease flows out) to meet growing demands.”

That is a worrying thought.

We have clinical workforce shortages almost across the board in the NHS, and that has been while we have had free movement. Adopting new clause 22 would be just one small step towards protecting the NHS from the inevitable impact of free movement coming to an end with the Bill.

As constituency MPs, we all have casework relating to patients with rare medical conditions who have been on waiting lists for years to see a specialist, because there may be only one or two doctors specialising in that condition in the country. There may be only a handful in the world, so trusts are regularly looking to recruit from overseas because they seem to have no choice. The immigration skills charge punishes trusts for doing so, with the Government taking back much-needed cash from budgets in order to pay the fees. It seems grossly unfair and counterproductive, and it takes money out of frontline hospital services.

The Labour party has submitted freedom of information requests to 224 NHS hospital trusts in England, asking how much of the charges they are paying back to the Government. So far, only 45 have responded—around 21% of the trusts. To give an indication of what some hospitals are paying out, I should say that Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust had to pay the Government £961,000 in immigration skills charges over the past three financial years. Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust tells us that it paid out more than that in the 2019-20 financial year alone, with a bill for £972,000 in just 12 months; it has paid over £2 million in immigration skills charges since 2017. The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust has paid over £1 million in the same timeframe, and the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust has paid £1,224,509 since 2017.

From the 21% of trusts that have responded to our FOI request, we know that nearly £13 million has been taken out of the NHS and handed back to the Government since 2017—nearly £13 million from just 21% of hospital trusts in England. That some hospitals can pay out nearly £1 million in immigration skills charges in a single year surely has to be a sign that the system is not working as intended. To repeat the point made by the MAC, this is all while people have been able to come under free movement, where fees would not have been applicable. That is about to come to an end. I urge the Minister to adopt new clause 22 to mitigate any further detrimental impact on the NHS workforce and to ensure that NHS funding stays in the NHS.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

In a sense, this debate echoes the one we had on the immigration health surcharge. I support everything that the shadow Minister has said, but I would push the Labour party to go a bit further and scrap the whole scheme.

I have nothing against the principle that employers should pay a contribution towards the cost of training and developing the skills on which businesses rely, but why should it apply only to those who recruit from abroad? That is not in any way a proxy for determining which businesses, companies and employers are not doing enough training in their own right. In fact, very often the opposite is the case: many of the businesses, companies and employers who recruit from overseas are also the ones who invest considerable sums of money in training and upskilling their workers.

However, skill shortages often arise at very short notice. For all the workforce planning that they do, and for all the training that they invest in, employers regularly have a need to recruit from abroad. As I say, it is a very poor proxy for trying to target companies that are not properly investing in training. The whole thing needs rethinking.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Members for Halifax and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for tabling the new clauses. The objective of the immigration skills charge is to incentive UK-based employers to take a long-term view of investment and training, and it is designed to address the UK’s historical underinvestment in training and upskilling. The income raised is allocated to the Department for Education and the devolved nations to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce.

We can all agree that immigration must be considered alongside investment in, and development of, the UK’s resident workforce, and it is only right that we provide those workers with opportunities to develop skills in order to further their careers and to contribute to the future economy. That is with particular reference to the situation we see at the moment in our country, where many people might need to find new employment opportunities due to the economic impact of covid-19.

The Committee may also wish to note that the introduction of the charge was supported by the independent Migration Advisory Committee as part of its December 2015 review of the tier 2 route.

The Migration Advisory Committee also recommended that the charge be extended and retained to cover employers of EEA citizens in the future immigration framework. In its September 2018 final report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK, the MAC said:

“We believe that extending the ISC to cover EEA citizens under any post-Brexit work-permit scheme would, on balance, be appropriate.”

It would also make no sense, now that we have left the European Union, to apply exemptions based purely on being an EEA national, as this suggests.

On new clause 22, the Government recognise the vital nature of the health and social care sector to the United Kingdom. Health and social care will be at the very heart of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, and we are doing all we can to ensure that the new system is fair, attractive and welcoming to the best and brightest overseas migrants. The new skilled worker route will be open to a broader range of roles in the sector—following the expansion of the current skills threshold—than the tier 2 general route.

As I mentioned earlier, the income for the immigration skills charge is used to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce, including the healthcare sector. It is right, therefore, that we focus on providing UK resident workers with the opportunity to develop skills that will enable them to become the healthcare heroes of tomorrow—the revenue from the immigration skills charge does that. For those reasons, the Government are not prepared to accept the two new clauses.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

We absolutely cannot wrap our heads around that, given how much money is being taken out of the NHS frontline, which seems to be an indication that the whole approach is not functioning as intended. However, with that in mind, I will not seek to divide the Committee. But the Labour party may return to this point at a later date. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Tom Pursglove.)

Adjourned till Thursday 18 June at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

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