Plans to introduce a point-based migration system similar to Australia’s could threaten the recruitment of foreign dancers by Birmingham Royal Ballet, its directors warned.
The company, which employs 53 dancers (17 of them from outside the European Economic Area), voiced its concerns during a visit to the city by David Metcalf, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee which is responsible for advising the Government on shortage occupations.
The system, due to come into effect this autumn, will see occupations split into three tiers – tier one for professionals, two for skilled workers and three for EU unskilled workers.
But with a heavy focus on qualifications, language proficiency and wages, Birmingham Royal Ballet bosses argued that professional dancers who hope to enter the country but have little or no academic qualifications would not meet the Government’s necessary migration requirements.
In a meeting with Mr Metcalf, BRB said the system posed a problem for its prospective foreign dancers as, in spite of years of intensive training, they do not receive qualifications for their profession.
Lynn Colledge, BRB’s human resources director, said the company had a capacity to employ 60 dancers, with seven current vacancies. Its 17 non-EEA dancers originate from America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, China, Japan and Russia.
She said: “We have offered, or are in the process of offering, five contracts for new dancers to join us next season. Although all have been recruited from British dance schools - Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst - three of these appointments will be subject to work permits being issued as the dancers originate from China, Australia and America.
“While highly talented, ballet dancers may not have formal qualifications and the majority are not high earners so non-EEA dancers are unlikely to gain the 50 points necessary to satisfy Section A of the Tier 2 criteria of the new points based system.
“We are hoping that the Migration Advisory Committee comes to the conclusion that ballet dancers are a ‘shortage occupation’ which would, to a large extent, address our concerns about the Tier 2 requirements.”
Mr Metcalf, who visited the city as part of his research into where labour market shortages exist, said: “We heard from Birmingham Royal Ballet, who are saying there is a problem recruiting ballet dancers. That fits in to how you define skills as most don’t have qualifications.
“If the committee says there is a shortage of skills for an occupation, that means they will be able to get the points to come in.”
In addition to BRB’s concerns, he said the city’s restaurant owners had also questioned how they would be able to recruit chefs, once the new system begins.
“We also heard from Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese people who have restaurants. They have skilled chefs and are concerned whether or not they can get people in because of qualifications and language problems,” he said.
During the visit, Mr Metcalf also met representatives of Advantage West Midlands and chartered quantity surveyors Davis Langdon. They identified a number of ‘shortage occupation’ areas including electrical, civil and nuclear engineering and chartered quantity surveyors.
According to the Home Office, if the points system was introduced last year, about 7,900 fewer skilled workers from outside Europe and their 3,900 dependants would have entered the country - 12 per cent less than the actual figure.