Impact of the Pandemic
100. The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered global human mobility and many labour migration programmes have been suspended. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been tracking the progressive restriction of global mobility pathways throughout the pandemic and, although many migration routes will reopen after the threat of COVID-19 subsides, there is a risk that Governments will use the current restrictions to reinforce broader longer-term limitations on inward migration.
101. The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the UK immigration system is highlighted by a 33% fall in the skilled work visas granted, in the year ending March 2021, to 76,638. There were 122,512 work-related visas granted to foreign nationals so they could work in the UK in the year ending March 2021 (including dependants), 37% lower than in the previous year, new government figures show. The steepest decline was in intra-company transfer visas which dropped 72% to 13,700 until 31 March this year.
102. The utilisation of the ICT route has partly reduced since the introduction of the new UK immigration system which removed the cap and cooling off period for the Skilled Worker route as well as abolishing the resident labour market test (RLMT). The suspension of the immigration cap avoids uncertainty for employers that applied at times where the cap has been reached. The cap was previously set at 20,700 per year for Tier 2 (General) which was split into monthly allocations and the number of applications regularly exceed the monthly allocation of available places throughout 2018.
103. Given the UK Governments well established hostile approach to migration Home Office Ministers may use the pandemic as a tool to curtail immigration. It is not inconceivable that the UK Government would consider reintroducing the cap or the RLMT to ensure that settled workers in the UK have the opportunity to apply for roles before allowing employers to offer positions to migrant workers. Both migration levers did not previously apply to the ICT route thus making it a more attractive option to employers.
104. It is the Scottish Government's view that, whilst usage of the visa has declined in recent months, the ICT route should be retained in order to provide rapid mobilisation of international workers to meet business needs. This will become increasingly important for our economic recovery if more restrictive measures are reapplied to the Skilled Worker route in order to 'protect' the domestic workforce. It is essential for Scotland's economic recovery to be able to attract talented and committed people from Europe and across the world to work here without excessive barriers. Migration policy should support mobility, collaboration and innovation.