The chief executive of the UK Screen Alliance Neil Hatton has condemned a Conservative Party proposal to double the Immigration Skills Charge levied to employers, declaring that it will impact on the VFX sector’s global competitiveness.

Speaking to Broadcast following publication of the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto today, Hatton said that the proposed policy contradicts Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s assertion that she wants Britain to attract the best global talent.

The proposal states that the Immigration Skills Charge will be increased from £1,000 to £2,000 per employee, per year by the end of the next parliament. The charge currently applies to overseas employees from outside the EU only.

Hatton, whose organisation represents the UK’s visual effects (VFX) and animation sector, said: “How does this proposal sit with Theresa May’s Brexit speech from Lancaster House in January? She said she wanted Britain to be ‘a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.’ I cannot see how this policy is going to achieve that.”

“We need the best people in the world because we work on the best content in the world,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter where they come from. We benefit not only from their creative talent but also from the nurturing talent they provide. By rubbing shoulders with the world elite there is a significant transfer of knowledge.

“If the proposal goes through, the end result will be that the staff will still be recruited but UK companies will be less well placed financially to compete for work against the rest of the world.”

What is the Immigration Skills Charge?

Introduced in April 2017, the Immigration Skills Charge is paid for by employers and is applicable when a potential or current member of staff is applying for a visa to work in the UK for six months or more under either a Tier 2 (General) visa or Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa. An overseas worker can be sponsored for a maximum of five years.

The charge was introduced in an effort to “incentivise the training of British workers.”

Approximately 12% of the VFX sector’s creative and support staff are from non-EU countries.

The Conservative Party manifesto, published today (18 May), states: “We will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK.”

Local talent

Hatton acknowledged that the UK VFX sector does need to increase its home-grown workforce and argued that work is being done to do that, but it will take time.

He cited the VFX apprenticeship scheme and the NextGen Skills Academy pipeline for 16 to 18 year olds as examples.

“We are making a tangible effort to grow homegrown talent,” he said. “The Skills Academy will deliver 120 students into graduate courses or apprenticeships. But it will take 10 years for those people to become economically significant. Until then we will still need to attract the best talent in the world. Doubling the Immigration Skills Charge discourages diversity which is the essence of creativity.”

The UK Screen Alliance’s stance prior to the announcement was to push for the Immigration Skills Charge to be scrapped.

It is not yet known whether the charge will be made applicable to EU-born workers either before or after Britain leaves the European Union (EU).

“To double the Immigration Skills Charge is disingenuous,” added Hatton. “It is a proposal driven by politics rather than pragmatism.”