UK vfx companies have voiced their opposition to plans set out in the Conservative Party’s manifesto to double the Immigration Skills Charge over the course of the next parliament.

VFx houses represented by the UK Screen Alliance say that the plans will make the cost of a Skills Charge for a 5-year visa for non-EU workers £10,000, an expense that is usually borne by the sponsoring employer.

The full cost of an individual Tier 2 visa application when all the elements are added in, is more than £18,000 each. The Uk Screen Alliance says that as the VFX industry employs a significant percentage of overseas creative artists and support staff, this increase in the cost of employment will have a detrimental impact on margins and competitiveness.

Neil Hatton, CEO of the UK Screen Alliance, said: “It is difficult to reconcile this proposal with the statement that the Prime Minister gave at Lancaster House on 17th January 2017 when she set out Britain’s priorities for the Brexit negotiations. Then she said Britain should be ‘a magnet for international talent’ which attracts ‘the brightest and the best’. It is hard to see how this proposal aligns with that sentiment”.

Research conducted by the UK Screen Alliance shows a concentration of overseas workers in creative and operational roles within VFX, many of which are already on the Shortage Occupation List. It revealed 57% of workers were from the UK but 31% of workers were from the EU & EEA (excluding UK and Ireland) and 12% were from the rest of the world and therefore potentially subject to the Immigration Skills Charge. There are around 6,000 people employed in the UK VFX sector.

The UK Screen Alliance says that the UK VFX industry employs its employees on the strength of their talent and reputation and not because they are a source of cheap labour. UK Screen Alliance’s data shows that the median salaries of UK and overseas workers are identical.

The worry is that visa costs will make the UK industry less competitive with projects and talent migrating to competing centres like Vancouver, Montreal, LA and New York.
The latest statistics from the British Film Institute show that the period from April 2016 to March 2017 the total spend on Film and High-End Television (HETV) production in the UK was £2.738 billion, the highest since record began (Film £1.908 billion; HETV £830 million). Inward investment accounted for 86% of film production and 62% of HETV production and was also a record levels. It is estimated by the UK Screen Alliance that the VFX portion of this spend was in excess of £500 million. Central London is home to five of the largest award-winning VFX companies in the world, which between them have received the VFX Oscar seven times in the last 10 years.
Alex Hope, MD of Double Negative and UK Screen Alliance board member said, “VFX in addition to the technology and wider Creative Industries, are an export growth sector. As an industry, we are committed to skills development and have a proven track record in doing this, (eg through initiatives like the NextGen Skills Academy).  Foreign talent has a critical role to play in skills development, as on the job training is invaluable in developing talent within our business.  Here at Double Negative our British VFX artists learn, and develop their skills, from the brightest and best in the world.  We are concerned that proposed changes to Tier 2 visa costs will impact this.”

Will Cohen, CEO of Milk VFX an UK Screen Alliance board member comments, “Any visa regime introduced must be affordable for employers in order not to squeeze the growth of the UK VFX industry. Making it more difficult to hire specialist non-EU employees when there is a domestic skillset shortage creates a short-term dichotomy.”

Danny Duke, MD of Bournemouth based boutique vfx company Outpost VFX comments, “I can’t afford to prioritise UK or EU workers if they’re not the most talented person to fill a vacancy.  If I do, then I am not able to offer world class visual effects artists in order to compete on a global stage, and when that happens, Outpost’s growth stalls.”

Jon Creamer

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