Financial services access to global high-skilled talent needs streamlining and lower costs

Over nine months on from the introduction of the UK’s 2021 immigration system, financial and related professional services firms are seeing significant cost increases to securing the high-skilled talent that they need to compete on the global stage.

While real progress has been made in removing unnecessary barriers and expanding the immigration routes available to skilled talent, businesses continue to struggle with process related issues. In many cases, relatively minor tweaks to the UK’s current mobility framework could go a long way to help UK businesses access the highly-skilled international talent they need grow and compete globally.

These challenges are explored in, ‘Global Talent Mobility: Ensuring UK competitiveness,’ a joint report from TheCityUK, EY and the City of London Corporation, which also details the areas where good progress has been made, including the removal of resident labour market testing for Skilled Worker visas.

Skilled, multinational and multilingual workers are key to the success of the industry on the global stage. For example, within UK-based financial services alone, 19.5% of workers are international, rising to 42% in FinTech.

The report also calls for the UK to explore more innovative measures to allow employees to enter the UK for short-term productive work without a work visa.

Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer, TheCityUK, said,

The UK is host to one of the world’s leading financial centres and the industry is a strategic national asset which allows Britain to compete at the global level. But to stay competitive, we must have the best global talent. Without it, we will not be able to innovate in key growth areas like FinTech or green finance, nor build out our international trading networks. The UK must strive harder to modernise its immigration processes, reducing the burden of red-tape and increasing its flexibility and adaptiveness to business needs.”

Seema Farazi, UK Financial Services Immigration Leader at EY, said,

New approaches to mobility and cross border working are creating the potential for firms to build more diverse workforces and address the current skills shortfall, but are challenging pre-pandemic immigration policy. As the sector emerges from this stage of the pandemic, with sustainability as a cornerstone to growth, it is crucial that the UK’s new immigration framework is truly innovative and flexible, and crucially, that it allows firms to compete for international talent.”

Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chair at the City of London Corporation, said,

The UK’s ability to access deep pools of highly skilled and talented workers is at the heart of its competitive advantage. To preserve this position in financial and professional services, we should continue to welcome highly skilled immigration while at the same time supporting the domestic talent pipeline.”

The report, ‘Global Talent Mobility: Ensuring UK competitiveness,’ sets out a number of recommendations to continue to improve the UK’s immigration system, as well as other ideas which will help to improve the UK’s access to the global talent and aid UK firms to access and export to the high-growth markets of the future.

These recommendations are divided into practical challenges which the UK can and should address in the short-term; reforms that require the UK to negotiate with global partners; and proposals relating to fundamental labour market challenges that require the UK to be innovative.

Practical challenges:

  • Create a hybrid short-term business visa to allow employees to enter the UK for short-term productive activity without a work visa.
  • Provide employers with ‘ways to pay’ the Immigration Skills Charge and allow medium-sized employers to pay the same fees as currently apply to small employers.
  • Allow time spent under the Graduate Route to qualify as continuous residence to give employers more agility around Skilled Worker costs and to retain international talent.
  • Process improvements:
    • Allow for all changes of employment with the same Sponsor to be effected by a simple Sponsor Management System (SMS) update*.
    • Provide certainty for employers on the long-term virtual right to work processes landing in Spring 2022.
    • Reduce SMS reporting obligations*.
    • Use data submitted by employers via Realtime payroll reporting to track salary changes and the end of a sponsored Skilled Worker’s employment*.
    • Increase speed by prioritising roll out of electronic biometric data processing to all nationals

Reforms that require the UK to negotiate with global partners

  • Negotiate reciprocal hybrid short-term business visa streams with trade partners.
  • Negotiate improved form of commitments around immigration requirements in FTAs, with a clear, standardised and reciprocal list of permissible and prohibited activities.
  • Negotiate a standard set of principles governing how visa applications are submitted and processed.
  • Negotiate an enhanced, bespoke Intra-Company-Transfer route for nationals of key trade partners on a reciprocal basis.
  • Continue to prioritise the expansion of reciprocal Youth Mobility Schemes.

Reforms that require the UK to be innovative

  • Lead innovation on Cross-Border Remove Working by facilitating short term work/remote work; and giving more flexibility for very temporary work that needs to be done in the UK.
  • Bring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reporting into quarterly migration statistics.
  • Allow sponsored, Skilled Workers to work part time by mutual agreement with their Sponsor (even if it reduces their salary below the absolute threshold) to support employer DEI commitments.

For further details on these recommendations, read the full report: Global mobility scorecard