The total amount of employers planning to recruit migrant workers has risen despite the government’s immigration cap, CIPD research has shown.

A quarter (25 per cent) of organisations questioned in the institute’s summer Labour Market Outlook survey say they plan to recruit migrants in the next quarter, up from 22 per cent in the spring survey and the highest proportion on record for the regular research. The finding, which is consistent with ONS data on the number of new arrivals to the UK, comes despite the government’s annual migration cap on non-EU nationals, imposed in April.

A lack of job-specific skills in the UK was cited by six in ten employers as the reason for continuing to look abroad. Worryingly for the government, employers affected by the cap were more likely to say that they are responding by recruiting more EU workers (34 per cent) which are not limited by the cap, rather than by up-skilling their existing workforce (23 per cent).

“We now have a strange anomaly where we have persistently high levels of unemployment but the number of employers reporting recruitment difficulties remains high,” CIPD public policy adviser Gerwyn Davies told PM. “This is because we have an ever more highly skilled economy, with new skilled jobs coming on stream while low skilled jobs are decreasing or being farmed off to China and South Asia. As a result, the supply of highly skilled workers is simply not meeting the demand and we need overseas workers to fill the gap – in areas such as engineering, IT, and even in the public sector where we have a shortage of doctors and nurses and other key positions.”

“There is mixed news for the government here,” continued Davies. “The bad news is that the first resort for employers is simply to look towards the EU, and we’re seeing many employers now looking to the likes of Ireland, Spain, and other countries that have high levels of unemployment to fill some of these roles. However, there is some good news in that a quarter say they will up-skill existing workers – a stated objective of the government – and 18 per cent say they will recruit more graduates. However, another fly in the ointment is that 8 per cent say they are planning to offshore further jobs abroad, which continues to be a real concern for us.”

The research showed that employers are reducing their use of intra-company transfers (ICTs) which were restricted under the cap to workers earning more than £40,000; only 23 per cent of firms plan to use this method in the next quarter. However, the Tier One visa route for highly skilled non-EU workers remains a popular method, with 34 per cent hiring staff through this route.

While the Tier One route for general high-skilled workers has been severely restricted by the government, the Tier One route for post-study workers remains open until 2013, and the real crunch for employers will come when this route is closed down in two years time and other visas are reduced further, Davies added.