I am one of the some 20,000 Tier 1 migrants that are permitted into this country per year. The Tier 1 scheme does not bind the migrant to a specific employer, giving a greater degree of flexibility to the visa holder. To put this number into perspective, allow me to point out that the population of England is about 56,000,000 (56 million). Unemployment is around 2,500,000 (2.5 million). We Tier 1 visa holders are not flooding the country and stealing all your jobs.
One headline I saw in the ever-objective Evening Standard said, “Immigration cuts will give more jobs to unemployed Britons”. I find this improbably optimistic. The kinds of skilled jobs for which people migrate are not easily filled. Bluntly put, most of those unemployed Britons will not be qualified through education or experience to do those jobs. I would even dare to posit that at the top of the global labour market, there is a perpetual shortage of appropriately trained, intelligent people with lifestyles flexible enough to permit migration. Even if that weren’t true, however, the maths don’t work. Assume that every person who comes in on a Tier 1 visa stays for the maximum of three years and then leaves. At any point, there are 60,000 Tier 1 migrants employed in Britain. That’s it. Even going to the extreme solution of deporting all of them and shutting down the scheme will give you a maximum of 60,000 jobs to fill. 60,000 does not equal 2.5 million. This is not going to solve your unemployment problem.
The Migration Advisory Committee (links to a PDF) found that around 20% of Tier 1 migrants were doing unskilled work at the time they were surveyed in late 2009, and that 10% were not working. I don’t believe this means the system is failing, which is the impression that a lot of the aforementioned newspaper articles give. Many people who do skilled work often use unskilled work as a stop-gap measure between jobs. Additionally, highly paid workers, migrant or native, can afford to take six months off to ponder a career change, have a child or even (gasp) have a holiday. (That is still allowed, if I remember correctly. Economic migration is not quite equivalent to entering indentured servitude.) I spent over a year in the UK as an unproductive economic unit. I hasten to point out that I was not a burden on the state, either, as I had no recourse to, or need to use, public benefits. It was a formative, healing experience for me after a long stretch of well-paid overworked unhappiness. It allowed me to reach a state of mind and clarity of purpose to begin skilled specialist work again. I also got to learn how to integrate into another culture - an ongoing process, I have to admit, even as a native English speaker.
I worry about these cuts in skilled migration from an objective as well as a personal perspective. I worry that barring migration helps to create insular societies in which young people never come into contact with educated representatives of other cultures. I worry that barring migration will stifle creative industry, since having access to employment opportunities across the globe gives skilled workers the chance to experiment with their careers. I worry that barring migration will compromise Britain’s position as a leader in scientific research and technological innovation.
The UK’s small number of Tier 1 migrants have no recourse to public benefits. They pay a good deal into its national institutions because of their high salaries and they take very little out. They are a light burden. Of course, since I am one myself and cannot vote, I can speak only as a helpless observer. I already knew I was one of a very few. I know I am only welcome here as long as I fulfill the obligations of my visa and so I mostly keep silent. It saddens me, though, that I am to become part of an even smaller minority and one that might even disappear voicelessly into the past.
"Skip to the end" version: I am a migrant on a Tier 1 visa living in Britain. I like it here. I do my job and I pay my taxes. I would like to stay. Please don’t throw me out for the sake of making a miniscule dent in your employment statistics.