Legal firm Osborne Clarke have published a short report on the changes to the existing Work Permit Scheme likely to be announced by the government in the next few months.
A US-style quota system is probable, which will mean that if you apply for a work permit during a year when the quota of permits has already been used up, you will not be given one. Requirements for labour market testing to be undertaken before exending a work permit or making an application for an existing permit holder are likely to be dropped, according to indications from the Department for Education and Employment. The law as it currently stands requires companies in the UK to attempt to recruit a UK or EEA national before offering the job to someone with another nationality.
Another possible change to the law is that some individuals may be able to make their own work permit applications, rather than relying on their employer to do so on their behalf. This is likely to affect those considered 'high flyers' with particularly high skill levels in sought-after areas.
A new trial system introducing 'season tickets' for workers entering the UK to work on a short-term basis is also on its way, as is a scheme to allow multi-national employers to self-certify rather than apply for work permits when employees are transferring between one country of operation and another.
Foriegn students are also likely to find things easier - the DfEE is looking at ways of making it simpler for those finishing graduate or post-graduate courses to stay on and find employment.
Osbourne Clark say that one potential downside of the newly revised laws is that the government may take this opportunity to impose a charge on those applying for work permits.
Osborne Clarke have a useful library of regularly updated briefing documents on employment-related issues on their website. Also check the DfEE's overseas labour service for guidance on applying for work permits.