Are highly skilled migrants doing highly skilled work in the UK?

A recent report from the home office appears to indicate that nearly a third of highly skilled migrants in the UK are employed in low-skilled jobs. But does this report really merit a rethink of Tier 1?

The latest piece of government research into Tier 1 of the Points Based System - for highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors - released last week raises many more questions than it answers.

The Tier 1 ‘operational assessment’ sampled 1184 Tier 1 migrants, who were applying to bring a dependent to join them in the UK, in June this year. The aim was to find out whether they were in work in the UK, and whether the jobs they were doing could be considered ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ work. This was assessed by looking at job titles and salary levels, with those bringing in more than £25,000 p.a. and in 'higher level' employment considered to be 'skilled' and those earning under £25K considered 'unskilled'. Overall, 25% of the Tier 1 migrants sampled were found to be in skilled work and 29% in unskilled work. However, the data available about the other 46% of the sample was too ‘vague’ or incomplete to be able to draw a conclusion about the skill level of their occupation in the UK.

This report has been presented by the government as big news, demonstrating that Tier 1 migrants are simply not performing at the level of the labour market that they should be. It was released alongside a statement from immigration minister Damien Green announcing that “this report questions the value of [the Tier 1] route into the UK, and the findings will play a key part in discussions on how the annual limit will be shaped'. As such it seems that the government may be seeking to tighten up Tier 1 alongside the introduction of a cap on economic migrants to the UK. But would this report really justify further restrictions on Tier 1?

A closer look at the research methodology used in the home office research, as argued here by the ippr, throws some doubts over the use of these findings. This research uses a limited sample, including only Tier 1 migrants applying to bring dependents in the UK, and excluding other Tier 1 migrants. No conclusions about occupation level have been drawn for almost half of those surveyed and very little other information is known about the sample. These findings do not seem to correlate with other, more extensive pieces of research into Tier 1. In their comment, ippr points to a similar, but more in-depth home office survey released in December 2009, which showed that 70% of Tier 1 migrants in the UK during early 2009 were in skilled work, despite the context of the recession. A substantial report into the design and operation of Tier 1 by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, released less than a year ago, concluded that it plays an important role in attracting highly skilled immigrants. In this context, the latest home office report seems to be far from the final word on Tier 1.

Nevertheless, big concerns that Tier 1 is too flexible in 'enabling' migrants to under-perform in the labour market have been laid out by policy-makers, using this report as back-up. Damien Green has commented that “Those coming into the UK under the highly skilled migrant route should only be able to do highly skilled jobs - it should not be used as a means to enter the low-skilled jobs market”. The current flexibility of Tier 1, which enables migrants to take unskilled employment during their stay if they need to, was introduced for a reason. The idea was that highly skilled migrants have leapt over considerable, and expensive, hurdles, in order to enter the UK and that they can be depended upon to want to move to skilled (and well-paid) employment here as soon as possible. Allowing Tier 1 migrants some freedom to find their own employment when here in the UK was supposed to enable them to create, and seize, opportunities as and when they arise – and for the economy to make the most of their capabilities in the medium and long term.

So, would the finding that a proportion of highly skilled migrants sampled in June were employed as cleaners and security guards really be such a disaster? Well, final conclusions about this would be limited without knowing more about the circumstances of those sampled - and there is plenty here that we do not know. For example, how long had those who were employed in work paid at less than £25,000 p.a. been doing so for?  It is possible that some of the sample had initially been able to get more work at their skill level and were then made redundant. Other migrants sampled may have just arrived in the UK and be tiding themselves over with low-paid work while looking for something better - there is nothing necessarily problematic about that. A wider examination of the circumstances and experiences of Tier 1 migrants might even turn up some uncomfortable information about the workings of the UK labour market in relation to migrants - such as whether they had faced discrimination in trying to get employment in the UK, or had other negative experiences in trying to get a job, including in relation to the specific sector, language, country of origin and gender. The report, for example, suggests that Pakistani nationals under Tier 1 are significantly less likely to be in skilled employment than Indians and Nigerians - a worrying finding which merits closer examination.

Overall, it may be that, rather than leaping to make the Tier 1 route even tougher to access and navigate for migrants, it would make more sense to proceed cautiously. What we seem to have now is a shaky snapshot of the numbers relating to in-country employment of highly skilled migrants at one point in time – certainly an area where very little information is currently available. But what we need is a more rounded information base to support a proper understanding of the experiences that skilled migrant workers have in the UK – this could even be extended to a wider rethink of how we monitor and value migration outcomes. 

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No surprise there. And since when did a couple of fancy Excel pie/bar charts constitute quality research. I know UKBA is squeezed for funds, but my Year 6 kid could do a better "operational assessment".

You definitely hit the nail - the arguments in your article are very accurate. And furthermore, HO/UKBA have been manipulating the Immigration Rule (not sure if the politicians are aware of this) to kind of unsettle these migrants. Most of those who were earlier given entry or leave to remain found themselves in lombo as the rules kept on changing and being applied restrospectively without regard for their right to private and family life when this nation prides itself on fairness and justice. There are quite a number in highly jobs who because this sort of manipulation were silently removed from their jobs. This study points to some kind of anti-immigration agenda being pedaled in this country ...

I would be extremely weary of such analysis. Most of all, it stinks of another change in the Points Based System, most likely, winding down the whole Tier 1. I've read a statement by someone at the UKBA saying, that anyone who works in a highly skilled job, comes through the Tier 2 anyway.
So logical conclusion is that they are capping Tier 2 and abolishing Tier 1.

This might come as a shock to the coalition government, but an article on the BBC news website states in the title that the immigration cap "may not work"

If only slashing the number of migrants coming into the UK would be as easy as slashing the budget.

What's Migrant Rights Org's take on the MAC report that's just been published?

@anonymous For now we've done a quick summary of the report with the analysis to follow in one of our future blogs.

How obvious it is when you see something from immigrants point of view. There are so many of us being baised by the reports coming out, which is being manipulated and in the media so obvious.


I think that this quote from David Cameron pretty much seals the fate for Tier 1. This is now going to be replaced by an "entrepreneur visa" with a different set of restrictions.

Here is the quote

"Today we're announcing new entrepreneur visas. These will mean that if you have a great business idea, and you receive serious investment from a leading investor, you are welcome to set up your business in our country. So as we act to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands, we'll make sure the UK is open to the best and brightest in the world."

And the link:

@Person of the world

Good hunch. BBC just reported on this as well. And they are even more clear than the Evening Standard

He [Cameron] said the government would reform the points-based system for allowing highly-skilled people into the UK - known as Tier One - introduced by Labour, saying it had been a "complete failure".

Here is the whole article


here is our analysis of the recent events. Quite a lot has happened in the past two days. Not much good news though. Have a read

Any reasonalbe person should not lose sleep over the report of the UKBA with regards to migrants doing unskilled work. From personal experience, it was easy for people doing security work or any other non skilled work to renew their permits than people doing highly skilled job.

Has it ever occured to the government to award points to migrants who are in skilled work when renewing thier permits, and to make such point acquisition compulsory for permit renewal. All the government is doing is looking for ways to make more money out of a system that does not work

When a Highly Skilled Person does not get a chance to work as per his experience, when he/she does not even get an interview call, when he/she gets denial of each of 100-200 job hunts what actually he/she does a day…. What do you think he/she should be doing to bear his/her and his/her family’s expenses????????

People coming from Pakistan, India or any other south Asian country might have communication problem but they are not less than any of the Britain professionally and in experience. They should be at least given a chance to improve their skills further while being in industry where they have worked outside the UK?

If we have to talk about recession all the time then I think the British government should just put ban on any skilled visa for all Asian countries. This would be much better for the skilled workers who come to UK to do more for them and their families back home instead of doing odd jobs and getting disappointed which results into making a skilled person un-skilled.