The Government’s proposal, published yesterday, is to implement a single visa scheme for both EU and non-EU immigration based on the ‘Tier 2’ visa regime that currently exists for non-EU immigration. This would include a minimum salary threshold of £30,000.
The UK Screen Alliance said this will “severely limit the VFX and animation industries’ access to the international talent it needs to succeed and continue to grow. One in three workers in VFX and one in five workers in animation are from the EU. Expensive visas with unrealistic minimum salary thresholds will add significantly to operating costs and impact on the sector’s competitiveness in the global market. UK Screen Alliance’s own research shows that 7% of the combined animation and VFX workforce are from the EU and are remunerated below £30,000.”
Following reported differences of opinion in Cabinet, the Government has decided to put the visa salary threshold issue out to consultation.
Chief Executive of the UK Screen Alliance, Neil Hatton said, “Salaries are a very poor indicator of skill levels. The remuneration levels in the creative industries in general are lower than say the financial services sector. A blunt instrument like Tier 2 does not account for these sectoral differences and to apply it to all migration will greatly disadvantage VFX and animation in securing the fresh high potential talent from the EU necessary to deliver continued growth. We welcome the Government’s decision to let employers have their say on what would be a disastrous policy.”
“The salary inflation necessary to remunerate these roles at the current £30k Tier 2 threshold would add £2.5million to the collective payroll costs of the VFX industry. Then there would also need to be an adjustment to salaries of UK citizens in these same roles to maintain parity and adjustments to job grades above to maintain differentials. Overall this could add 3% to 5% to overheads and seriously damage competitiveness.”
The white paper acknowledges that there could be threshold reductions for occupations in shortage, but minimum salary restrictions are not UK Screen’s only concerns. The Government also proposed levying the Immigration Skill Charge onto EU visas. The charge which is already applied to non-EU Tier 2 visas is £1,000 per year and the Immigration Health Surcharge paid by visa holders and any dependents they bring with them, is set to increase to £400 per year.
Fiona Walkenshaw, Global MD of Film at Fantastic Beasts and Avengers VFX firm Framestore said, “The potential cost is horrific. It will have a major impact on competitiveness across our industry, as we collectively hire the best graduates in Europe. Now other member states will build clusters and dilute the UK’s global centre of excellence.”
UK Screen Alliance estimates that there are around 750 new hires each year in VFX and animation who are EU citizens. It concedes that it is impossible to predict how many of these new EU hires in future will have “settled” or “pre-settled” status in the UK or intend to return to their country of origin at the end of their contracts, but it says in a worst-case scenario visa application costs for EU citizens would add a further £2.3 million to workforce overheads.
The UK Screen Alliance has a number of UK skills growth programmes it is working on but cautioned that it “will take as much as ten years to make a real impact on the supply of suitable home-grown applicants, in which time if our access to global talent is restricted by an unsympathetic visa system, we risk losing our place as the world’s leading base for VFX.”
Hatton concludes, “UK Screen Alliance will continue to make evidence-based representations to Government on behalf of its members to secure cost-effective access to international talent. We will engage vigorously with the proposed and current consultations, starting with the increasingly important Shortage Occupation List review which closes in early January.”
As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, there remains a startling lack of clarity over what the UK’s relationship with the EU will look like. As far as the UK Screen Alliance is concerned, it certainly won’t be advantageous for the film and TV sectors.