In the context of the current economic climate it is all the more important that the Points Based System for immigration is able to respond flexibly to changing economic and labour market needs, and that the process of assessing shortages and awarding points for skills is accurate, fair and transparent. Given that the number of job vacancies in the UK has reduced by a third over the last year and currently stands at its lowest level since comparable records began in 2001, it is obvious and right that employers should seek to recruit first from the UK labour market. However, where there are certain skills of which a genuine shortage exists, recruitment from outside the EEA should be allowed if otherwise the UK's global competitiveness could be harmed.
The practical implementation of the Points Based System for managed migration has on the whole received a cautious welcome, in particular for the emphasis it places on transparent and objective criteria. However, several key structures on which the system is builtmost notably the calibration of points, the shortage occupation lists, compliance responsibilities placed on sponsors and the introduction of administrative reviewrequire further consideration.
Although objectivity is to be welcomed, measuring skill by awarding points for criteria such as past earnings or academic qualifications gives undue priority to easily-quantifiable attributes and ignores ability or experience in a job. In particular, the overemphasis on formal qualifications at the expense of professional experience or training is arbitrary and unfair. Practitioners of several skilled professionssuch as ballet dancers, chefs or musiciansdo not necessarily hold formal qualifications. Rather than including such professions on a shortage occupation list, we recommend that the Government should draw up a list of high-level training or professional experience, by sector, which it will accept as a substitute for academic qualifications.
The long term inclusion on the shortage occupation lists of occupations which reflect areas of long term structural shortage, or the need to compete internationally for a small number of exceptionally talented people appears to be to compensate for poor design elsewhere in the system. We recommend that these shortages should be addressed by adapting the points criteria, and not by inclusion on the lists. The shortage occupation lists should be used only to provide flexibility for short term or cyclical shortages; to this end the Government should consider updating the lists on a more frequent, or rolling, basis.
Employers and educators, as the sponsors of migrants, are expected to take on greater responsibility for migrants' compliance with immigration controls. There is clearly great nervousness amongst sponsors over the possible penalties attached to any failure, even unwitting, to report changes in circumstance of their migrants. We recommend that the Government gives a degree of leeway to 'A' rated sponsors, and that it makes explicit to sponsors exactly how and when they can expect penalties to be applied. It must also ensure that the Sponsorship Management Systemon which administration of the whole system of migrant sponsorship restsis adequately piloted and tested, or risk potentially dramatic consequences for the reputation, functioning and finance of UK business and education.
We conclude that representations by Members of Parliament to the UK Border Agency and ministers on immigration and asylum cases will increase, since the system contains no independent right of appeal against visa refusals but only a paper-based administrative review. This could lead to MPs and ministers becoming an alternative appeals process. Already too many MPs are dissatisfied with the quality and speed of response to their representationsunderstandably so, since the UK Border Agency is spectacularly failing to meet its target of responding to 95 per cent of correspondence within 20 days.
Different industriescatering and hospitality, health and social care, information and communications technology, legal services, higher education and students, arts and entertainment and agriculture and horticulturehave experienced specific problems with the implementation of the system. We consider these issues individually in Chapter 11.