CIfA welcomes publication of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on EEA migration in the UK

CIfA welcomes the Migration Advisory Committee's report on EEA migration in the UK, which has been published today. CIfA has contributed evidence to the report at various stages and has been keen to stress the role and importance of EU27 migrants in the UK archaeology sector. The previous interim report of the MAC, published in March, showed that wider evidence from other sectors also recognised many of the same concerns regarding the need and value of EEA labour in the UK workforce, as well as some of the potential impacts of Brexit on this picture.

For archaeology, roughly 15% of the UK archaeological market in 2016/17 was made up of non-UK EU citizens. This represents a significant portion of the workforce in a time where increased demand has seen pressure put on the availability of archaeologists trained in the UK. While demand may vary over time, tied to the rate of development and infrastructure spending in the UK, CIfA recognises that non-UK labour is likely to always play an important role in allowing the UK workforce to adjust to meet demand.

Above all, our view is that Government must put in place robust new systems that enable the right level of immigration to meet the UK’s needs, including for archaeology. It should also ensure the ability of UK professionals to work in the EU. Provisions should also ensure that UK universities maintain research and teaching excellence and attract top students.

Today’s report concludes that there is little or no negative impact of EEA migration on the UK, and that high skilled migration, in particular, has many positive impacts. The report, however, concludes that low skilled migrants do not have such positive impacts.

The report also concludes that there is no compelling reason to give EEA citizens preferential treatment over non-EEA migrants, after Brexit. The report suggests that the current Tier 2 visa programme could form the basis of an immigration system which increases the number of high skilled migrants, but decreases the number of low skilled migrants after Brexit.

The vast majority of people employed in archaeology in the UK are highly skilled (93% hold Bachelor degrees, 47% Masters, 20% PhD). However, they are comparatively poorly paid relative to other sectors.

This presents a problem for the sector if post-Brexit immigration rules are based closely on current Tier 2 visa rules, as the median salary for an archaeological job in the UK in 2012/13 was £27,814 – well below the threshold of £31,000 necessary for Tier 2 visa applications. We are therefore concerned that highly-skilled work is conflated with highly-paid work in the report and that the current Tier 2 programme is highlighted as a satisfactory basis for future policy.

The report also argues that there should not be ‘sector deals’. This will be of concern to colleagues within the construction sector to whom archaeologists (as a recognised construction occupation) may have sought to work to seek solution to their related specific concerns.

We therefore call on Government to think carefully about the impact that this decision would have on sectors like construction and archaeology, as any negative impact which affects the ability of these sectors to deliver sustainable growth and contribute to productivity goals would be detrimental to the economy of the UK.

It is telling that the report notes that;

Although the restrictions [on immigration post-Brexit] we suggest are not intended to affect high-skilled migration, there is a danger that this becomes collateral damage as the system tries to restrict other types of migration.

Until we see evidence the Government is designing a system that will be able to deal with issues affecting archaeology in particular, we remain concerned that the process of defining a post-Brexit immigration system which seeks to restrict low or high skilled migration to the UK will present challenges for the archaeological sector.

Any changes to systems for immigration system must not restrict the ability of UK employers to hire skilled non-UK EEA labour into the archaeological services sector. This will require:

  • A visa system which recognises current high demand for archaeological labour through an appropriate mechanism (eg through a shortage occupation list. Note: It may be desirable for archaeology – as a registered Construction occupation to seek any exemption as part of this larger group)
  • A visa system which recognises professional accreditation as a measure of skill level (Note: The Government’s July 2018 white paper proposes a system for mutual recognition of professional accreditations. In archaeology there are no other viable accreditations, with the exception of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. However, CIfA has members in over 30 countries and accreditation would be an appropriate benchmark for judging skill levels of migrant workers)
  • A system which does not restrict the ability of UK professionals to work overseas

We will be seeking further opportunities to work with government to explore potential options to meet these requirements and those of government.

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