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‘We’re growing but Britain is missing out’: ZHA chief slams visa system

Zaha hadid staff

Ninety-five per cent of visa applications from architect practices for candidates from outside the EU are being refused, new data shows

Figures obtained through FOI from the Home Office by law firm Eversheds Sutherland show that of 111 Tier 2 applications for architect candidates made between last December and the end of April this year, just six were granted – one of the lowest rates of all occupations using the visa route.

Skilled workers from outside the EU such as IT specialists, engineers and teachers, as well as doctors and nurses use the Tier 2 visa route, which is capped at 20,700 each year and requires minimum salary thresholds to be met.

Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Zaha Hadid Architects - ranked the UK’s third largest practice in the AJ100 - called the figures ‘terrible’ and said his international firm’s only option was to grow outside of the UK – a loss to the British economy.

‘The NHS is given priority and after that, if visa certificates are left, they look at seniority and salaries,’ he said. ‘We are trying to hire people at the £30,000 level, at graduate level, and these visas don’t reach down to that level. We rely on talent from around the globe so this is a real problem for us and has been for many months. It’s impacting us right now.

‘Because this restriction doesn’t apply overseas, we are expanding our teams in Hong Kong and Beijing. We’re growing; but this country is missing out.’

Simon Kenny, a principal at Eversheds Sutherland and a specialist in immigration, said that the success rate for architects through the Tier 2 route was ‘notably worse than average’.

‘The criteria are quite straightforward and based on salary, unless you are in a “shortage occupation” or an occupation that requires a PhD and architects don’t qualify for this,’ he said. ‘You need to earn £50,000-£65,000 as a minimum salary and architects are being offered less money than that.

Kenny said the failure of practices to land skilled candidates was not the only way in which they are losing resource through the visa system.

‘Practices have to go through quite a process to make these applications so there has probably been a lot of expense and time-consuming administration involved,’ he said. ‘It all suggests the system is quite crude in allocating candidates and assessing what the economy needs.’

The system is quite crude in allocating candidates and assessing what the economy needs

Other occupations with a very low rate of Tier 2 visa success include pharmacists and opticians.

The RIBA’s executive director of professional services Adrian Dobson agreed the system was costly and difficult for architects, adding this was ‘particularly burdensome’ for smaller practices without dedicated HR staff.

‘This is why we have called on the government to review how the system works, to ensure that the UK does not lock out international talent in sectors that are crucial to the future economic health of the UK,’ he said.

’The stakes for our sector will of course get higher if freedom of movement with the EU ends. This is why the RIBA has made a number of recommendations in support of a progressive post-Brexit immigration system.’


Readers' comments (4)

  • Bruce Buckland

    Here's an idea: stop being so addicted to imported labour and invest in training some British people for a change.

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  • John Kellett

    Well said anonymous ! There are British Architects wanting to work here, they just do not wish to be paid less than a decade ago and are closing other, better paid, professions.

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  • Phil Parker

    Strange. I once heard a rumour that Zaha Hadid had a mini workforce of young architects who were not paid anything. Doubt they’d be look on too favourably by the visa aithorities. Perhaps ZHA should pay more?

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  • Do not listen to too much rumor phil papker

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