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The Government’s new points-based work permit scheme hinders law firms from hiring overseas talent
Norton Rose has failed to secure a work permit for one of its future trainees and has had to turn away a handful of Indian interns as the legal sector continues to grapple with the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) points-based work permit system.
The Government’s controversial decision to introduce a temporary cap on the number of non-EU migrants entering the UK is likely to impact on all international firms, potentially preventing them from making lateral hires from non-EU markets or moving lawyers from overseas offices to London.
The temporary cap was announced by the coalition on 29 June and came into force on 19 July. Under the new rules firms have had individual quotas slammed on them based on the number of work permits issued to them between July 2009 and March 2010. Firms that secured six permits during that period have had their allocation of so-called Tier 2 visas, which cover trainee recruitment and lateral hires, slashed by 15 per cent.
The cap also covers existing employees whose work permits are about to expire, but excludes partners and some associates who can enter the UK under a Tier 1 visa. These are only awarded to individuals who satisfy stringent rules on minimum age, savings and earnings.
However, Tier 1 visas are covered by a temporary quota of 600 work permits per month for embassies throughout the world.
Interns meanwhile are eligible for a Tier 5 visa and although not subject to a cap Norton Rose did not manage to secure these visas in time for its interns to start their placements. The interns are therefore expected to start their work experience later this year.
Human resources departments have expressed concerns about the cap, which is expected to become a permanent feature. In recent years a growing number of firms, including Herbert Smith, Linklaters, SJ Berwin and Norton Rose, have developed strong links with Indian universities and have regularly run recruitment trips there to cherry-pick the best graduates.
One graduate recruitment partner told The Lawyer: “The cap is going to be an issue for many law firms. The reason we go to places such as India and Australia is because they operate a common law system, so it’s not the same as hiring lawyers from France or Germany, which are civil law jurisdictions.”
Norton Rose is now in the process of reapplying for the trainee’s work permit, but it is also exploring the possibility of placing them with an overseas office. The trainee, who is an Indian national, was due to join Norton Rose this month.
The Law Society is gathering feedback from law firms and planning to make submissions to both the UKBA and the Migratory Advisory Committee, which are running consultations prior to the introduction of permanent caps.