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Migration Advisory Committee - Review of Tier 2

The Migration Advisory Committee have launched a review into the Tier 2 immigration and visa policy. This is the route by which many researchers and skilled workers enter the country. Details of the review are available on the Government website. This submission was prepared by the Geological Society in collaboration with University Geoscience UK, the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Geophysical Association.

Submitted 25 September 2015

1.This submission has been produced jointly by the Geological Society of London, University Geoscience UK, the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Geophysical Association.

i. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with about 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses a broad range of professions: approximately three-quarters of our members work in industry in sectors such as energy, engineering, water and contaminated land and groundwater remediation, while the remainder work in academia, education and government organisations such as the British Geological Survey and the Environment Agency. This diverse membership contributes to a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

ii. University Geoscience UK is the subject association of Geoscience (geology, applied geology, Earth science, geophysics, geochemistry and some environmental science) departments/schools based within universities in the British Isles. It promotes discussion and exchange of information between departments and provides a point of contact between these and professional, government and quality control agencies.

iii. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The Society represents the interests of professionals working in these fields nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 Fellows, a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

iv. The RAS and GSL jointly support the British Geophysical Association (BGA), which represents geophysicists in the UK.

2. We have not attempted to answer all of the questions set out in the consultation. Our submission draws principally on the impacts of the review of Tier 2 on geoscience-based research and industry.

3. We note that CaSE will also make a submission to the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) review. The Geological Society contributed to the development of that submission, and strongly supports its conclusions. Our comments below should be read as supplementary to those CaSE have presented.

Focusing on particular skills shortages

4. The issue of skills shortages in the UK is a complex landscape of which Tier 2 immigration is one important component. Tackling skills shortages requires a wide-ranging, holistic view of the causes and solutions, taking in education, training and economic policy to name a few. A reactive, more piecemeal approach to skills shortages and the current immigration situation will not address the root of the issue. This will in turn negatively impact on the government’s growth and productivity objectives.

5. The strong anecdotal evidence, business cases and reasoning that have been put to us suggest that reducing Tier 2 immigration in a way that would stem the flow of essential geoscience skills and expertise both in industry and academia would have a significant negative impact. It is very difficult to provide secure quantitative data even on past impacts of immigration policy and our organisations have limited resources to collect this kind of data. However, in 2012 the Geological Society commissioned a report, delivered in June 2012, on ‘Geoscience skills needs of UK industry’. We are submitting this report, including the compendium of evidence gathered during interviews with employers, alongside these remarks. It includes a great deal of evidence relevant to the questions raised in the MAC’s call for evidence. We appreciate that the data included in this report is not immediately up to date but this is a good snapshot of our sector’s understanding of this issue. Some of the specific requirements listed in the report have changed but the broader issues have not gone away. Of course there have been some changes in the intervening period most significantly in the oil and gas industry, one of the sectors discussed in the report. This is due to the fall in the price of oil and the resultant downturn in that industry. This development only serves to underline the dynamic nature of the employment environment and that changes in workforce needs can often develop very rapidly. These types of scenarios are also difficult to predict in advance: in this case, it is unknown whether the oil price will stabilise, rise or fall even lower in the coming few years, and what the effects of this on the industry will be. An immigration policy that is not flexible enough to allow for these kinds of rapidly-developing scenarios will fail to meet the workforce needs of the country.

6. The skills report does not cover all geoscience relevant sectors and in particular does not cover the geoscience skills requirements in the research and academia sector and so is not a complete picture. However, it does cover a number of essential key skills areas on which the UK economy depends. In some specialisms, the absolute numbers of appropriately skilled and trained personnel required is small – but these individuals are of critical importance to the UK economy. The report highlights a number of specific shortages and we understand that there are many similar shortages, replicated elsewhere in the sector that are not detailed in this report. The map of skills shortages is a complex, nuanced picture that is not best captured by creating a specific list of roles by job title such as the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). A few examples of groups of highly specialised skilled personnel that are highlighted in the report include: Processing geophysicists with 10-15 years’ experience, experienced petroleum geochemists with 15 years’ experience and Senior geotechnical engineers. These needs may not be captured by a simple list of job titles or roles. A key finding of the report which explains some of the developing long term issues that would not be served by an expanded SOL is that ‘There is good evidence to suggest that businesses are investing in skills by recruiting and training graduates. However, this follows a period of around five years during which graduate recruitment was all but cancelled. Therefore, it is likely that in five years’ time there will be a further shortage of engineering geologists with 5-10 years’ experience.’

7. That sort of skills shortage cannot be fixed overnight but could have a significant impact on UK PLC. Industry, educators and professional and learned bodies, among others, are working to address these concerns, but government has an essential role to play in addressing structural issues. The flow of these specialised skills is imperative for businesses such as oil, gas and engineering companies which form a crucial part of the UK economy. Many of these are global businesses which will relocate their operations to countries in which the skilled personnel they need are readily available. If government wants that economic activity to remain in the UK then current and potential future skills shortages need to be addressed. There is little incentive for companies with global reach to campaign to address skills issues at a national level or to work to have particular roles included on the SOL. It is more likely that they will simply go elsewhere.

8. With regards to the question on regional differences in skills shortages, it is worth noting that some industries, particularly those dependent on the geosciences, are inherently location-dependent due to the location of various Earth resources for example. This necessarily impacts on the pattern of regional requirements for suitably skilled individuals across the UK.


9. The implicit assumption of the sunsetting clause on the SOL is that these shortages are temporary and that they require emergency, reactive measures to resolve the shortage. We know from speaking to our community that these shortages take a long time to address and require joined up policy making across education, training and immigration. In many sectors of industry, geoscientists need to have both an undergraduate degree and a taught applied masters degree to enter the profession. Furthermore, as noted above, shortages reported by industry are often for individuals with many years’ professional postgraduate experience – by definition, such experience cannot be acquired rapidly. Individual companies and academic institutions cannot address these issues on their own; government must play its part in addressing these structural shortages in a way that looks beyond short-term deficits.

Intra-company transfers

10. This varies from sector to sector but in some geoscience-based industries, intra-company transfers are of vital importance. International oil companies, some of which are major employers in the UK, rely on the mobility of skilled and senior personnel, according to the needs of current projects worldwide. Anecdotal evidence indicates that current UK immigration regulations are impeding this mobility. This will make global companies more likely to move existing operations outside the UK, and to invest in new projects overseas rather than in the UK, in turn reducing employment opportunities for UK citizens, as well as harming economic competitiveness.

Skills Levy

11. It is not within our expertise to comment on the impact of the skills levy on business. In response to the point on funding apprenticeships, this is a welcome consideration but it is worth noting that many skilled people and many of those mentioned in the SOL require training far beyond apprenticeship level. Many highly skilled roles in the geoscience sector require training at taught applied masters and PhD level even for entry-level jobs. This further underlines the need for a holistic approach to skills shortages, joined up with education and skills policy to tackle this complex issue.

Overall Tier 2 Design

12. The SOL, even an expanded one, cannot address these complex skills shortages issues alone and a more broad ranging approach is required to address these concerns.

13. An example of where the reviewed Tier 2 design may be highly detrimental, as highlighted to the MAC in a separate letter from the British Geophysical Association, is the impact of the UK immigration controls on the International Seismological Centre (ISC). The ISC is an international non-governmental body which exists to assemble from as many sources as possible information about seismic signals detected around the world. The ISC is financed by grants and membership fees from non-governmental organisations in many countries including the UK’s Royal Society and Russian Academy of Sciences as well as commercial companies. It is essential that the ISC is able to employ staff from many countries, not restricted to the EU, and its statues specify that its Director should ‘have due regard for the international character of the Centre’ when appointing staff. It employs about 12 qualified geophysicists of a total staff of 18 and its salary scale is tied to that of Oxford University. A rise in the salary threshold for Tier 2 employees above the current rate for university research staff will prevent it from employing non-EU geophysicists which will therefore negatively impact on this small-scale but globally important UK-based research function.