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Immigration rule change could add £7,000 to annual cost of overseas architect

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Removing architecture from the official list of shortage occupations would add £7,000 per year to the cost of bringing in many workers from abroad under the government’s post-Brexit immigration system, the RIBA has warned

Portland Place said it was ‘crucial’ the Migration Advisory Committee recommended keeping the profession on the shortage list when it reports to ministers in September.

Home secretary Priti Patel this week revealed how applications for work visas would be judged from 1 January when the UK’s exit from the EU is complete.

Under the new system, people in European countries will need to speak English and have an offer of a job that is judged to require skills equivalent to A-Levels. They will then have to earn a further 20 points to qualify for immigration.

These extra points can be gained by earning the ‘going rate’ for a profession on arrival – specified at £35,000 a year for architects.

This threshold can be lowered to £28,000 for those working in professions on the official occupation shortage list. Architecture was added to this list last year but its status could change at any time – and a consultation on occupational shortages closed last month ahead of a set of recommendations going to the home secretary.

RIBA public affairs manager Lucy Monks said architecture losing its shortage status would give large London practices a ’huge competitive advantage’ over smaller regional firms unable to afford the extra £7,000 a year to bring in a skilled foreign worker at the ‘going rate’.

A third route under the new immigration system, which sees ‘new entrants’ to architecture eligible for the extra points required with a salary of £23,500, will be unavailable to many foreign architects, the RIBA fears.

Patel’s new system defines new entrants by one of three measures: they have to be under 26; switching from a student or graduate migration route; or working towards recognised professional qualifications. Yet RIBA research has previously shown that many international architects come to the UK in their 30s, fully qualified after years of studying in their home countries.

RIBA president Alan Jones said it was ‘essential’ that ministers got the immigration system right.

‘UK practices must be able to attract and retain global talent, especially smaller firms and those outside of London who are looking to recruit international skills,’ he said.

‘Salary thresholds must not be a barrier. The new entrant salary discount will provide support for some, but we are concerned that the length of study for many international architects will make this benefit unobtainable.

‘To mitigate this difference, it is crucial that architects are retained on the Shortage Occupation List, and we await a decision from the Migration Advisory Committee on this.’

An RIBA report last year warned that the UK’s exit from the EU could create a ‘severe talent gap’ as 80 per cent of this country’s 10,000 international architects were from the union. 

Patel said this week: ’The British people voted to take back control of our borders and introduce a new points-based immigration system.

’Now we have left the EU, we are free to unleash this country’s full potential and implement the changes we need to restore trust in the immigration system and deliver a new fairer, firmer, skills-led system from 1 January 2021.’

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