According to data obtained by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case), 383 engineers from outside the European Union were denied Tier 2 visas to take up jobs that they had been offered by UK companies.
In order for skilled workers from outside the EU to be eligible, their prospective employers must demonstrate that they were unable to find suitable candidates in the UK.
The number of Tier 2 visas is also capped at 20,700 a year – or around 1,700 a month – but, until December 2017, this limit had been reached just once in six years.
However, between December and March, the Home Office received an unexpectedly high number of applications from employers wanting to hire non-EU workers. Nearly half of all applications were refused, and in March the number of refusals was over 50% for the first time.
It’s been estimated that there is an annual shortfall of up to 56,000 engineers in the UK, and this skills shortage has been exacerbated by the Brexit vote, which has led to a fall in skilled migration from within the EU.
Dr Sarah Main, executive director of Case, argues that science and engineering should be exempt from the cap on visas. "The tragedy is that this policy doesn't work for anyone: the government, employers or the public," she told the BBC. “The government repeats its mantra that Britain should be open to the brightest and the best, and yet this policy specifically rejects those people.”
Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO, Royal Academy of Engineering said that engineering is a global industry, and that the UK visa system should reflect that. "The annual shortfall of engineers in the UK is estimated to be up to 56,000 and for engineering, access to skilled labour from overseas will be crucial for the foreseeable future," he said.
"We are working hard with many partners to increase the numbers of UK engineering graduates and technicians, especially from groups currently under-represented in the profession. However, it is impossible to address engineering skills shortages entirely from within the UK, for reasons including the pace of technology development and the length of time it takes to fully train qualified engineers. A fit for purpose immigration system is essential.”
A Home Office spokesman said: "The government fully recognises the contribution that international professionals make to the UK. However, it is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas."