Is UK’s Points Based System Deterring Foreign Lawyers from Practising?

Leading UK legal publisher, LexisNexis’ LexisPSL interviewed our Immigration Team for an article on ‘whether the points based system is deterring foreign lawyers from practising in the UK?’. We commented on whether there was a skills gap in the legal market and whether the current strict immigration rules would make things worse.

The full LexisPSL report is available for download here: LexisPSL – Is UK’s Points Based System Deterring Foreign Lawyers from Practising

Financial Times, 7 March 2014: A survey conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG has revealed that, although demand for permanent staff is increasing, there is a shortage of skilled workers to fill the positions. The chief of the REC, Kevin Green, has criticised changes to the immigration system that have made it more difficult for companies to bring in skilled workers from abroad.

Is there a skills gap in the legal market?

KPMG has provided a report into the current state of the UK labour market. The report suggests there is a rise in permanent appointments since March 2010 and lists the occupations in which the demand for skills exceeds the supply of skills.  The report has named the engineering sector at the top of the demand for the permanent staff ‘league table’. This is followed by construction, nursing and medical care.

The report does not specifically mention the legal market and it could be inferred that there is less of a skills gap in the legal market as the report mentions the skills shortage in accountancy, financial and construction sectors.  Although the legal sector is not listed in the report, it is possible that it is encompassed by section 4, under the ‘Executive / Professional’ heading.  But in section 5, ‘Executive(s) / Professional (s)’ in short supply from a ‘staff availability’ point do not include lawyers.

The Law Society’s Annual Statistics report in 2012 reveals that there were 165,971 solicitors on the Roll and the report does not elaborate on how many foreign born or migrant solicitors there are in the UK. The Law Society does cater for foreign lawyers and has a scheme entitled Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) in which lawyers from recognised jurisdictions can obtain a license to practice as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Could the current UK visa rules make things worse?

The most prevalent route for migrants to work in the UK is the Tier 2 (General) migrant visa.  It is designed to attract skilled migrants who have a job offer to come to the UK to work for up to six years in a role that cannot be filled by a British born worker.  Given the number of law graduates produced every year this criteria could be hard to satisfy.  In addition the job must be at graduate level and have a minimum salary of £20,300 per year. It is important to note that the government have capped this route at 20,700 per year but there is no limit for those paid above £152,100 per year.

The direct impact of the visa rules on the legal profession is yet to be seen. Statistics published last year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that the number of foreign born people finding jobs in the UK had increased by 225,000 to 4.26m in a year, compared with a rise of just 192,000 British born workers.

The government has vowed to reduce the annual net migration to 100,000 for the next general election however official figures for net migration released in November 2013 show a surprise increase of 15,000 in the past year to 182,000.

Will chambers and law firms be affected?

It is important to note that solicitors and barristers are not listed in the current shortage occupation list, a list that is updated and reviewed regularly by the Migration Advisory Committee which informs the Government of the sectors in which there is a shortage of supply. The current list includes professionals in the engineering and medical sector which indicates that this is the main area in which the Government wishes to recruit skilled migrants.

From the report the logical inference to join is that there is no skills gap in the legal market at present.  However, the legal professional has always prided itself on its diversity and availability to foreign students.  As the points based system starts to bite, it is possible, due to the complexity of the current Rules, that foreign lawyers will be less willing to come to the UK to ply their trade.  The diversity of the legal profession may well suffer in the long run, even if the Legal Practices in the UK maintain full staffing levels.

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