White paper released
A white paper considering the possibilities of ‘The UK’s future skills-based immigration system’ has been published, including proposals such as only giving long-term permits to workers who are travelling into the UK to join British businesses on a salary of £30,000 or more. This is in line with recommendations set out by the Migration Advisory Committee.
There would also be a new route developed for low-skilled workers. This would allow migrants to access the labour market, including in food jobs, with a 12-month visa. They would not be allowed to bring family members along with them, would not gain rights to settle in the UK, and would have to wait for a further 12-month cooling off period after their first visa expired. All of this could add up to decimate the UK’s food labour, which is largely made up of unskilled workers who are looking to earn a place for their family to stay.
Ian Wright is the Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). He has strong concerns that the proposals do not address the key challenges that the food and drink industry will be facing, as they attempt to retain workers at every skill level from fresh produce jobs to science and development.
There will be little incentive for workers to come to the UK for a limited 12-month fixed-period, especially if there is a required ‘cooling off’ period which follows,” he said. “Similarly, we have concerns about a prohibitive salary threshold for skilled workers, especially as this would ignore the variation in wages seen at a regional level throughout the country.”
Some key takeaways
He did, however, welcome some of the proposals which were put forth. These included removal of the resident labour market test, as well as getting rid of a cap which has been placed on the number of skilled workers allowed into the UK. Wright called on the government to go further, abolishing the immigrate skills charge and making sure that the new system was properly streamlined.
“We would urge Government to work closely with the food and drink industry to ensure any future system does not constrain businesses’ ability to grow and look forward to contributing to the forthcoming consultation,” he added.
The white paper does not make any mention of the migrant workers who are already in the UK, and earning less than the £30,000 threshold. Whether they would be subject to new laws, or allowed to remain, is something that has not been discussed. Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned that the proposals would put even more pressure on the price of goods and services for consumers as a result of increased hiring costs.
“Setting the main cut-off for hiring workers from outside the UK at £30,000 would leave retailers and their supply chains recruiting from a very small pool of domestic labour, the vast majority of whom are already in work,” she said. “This threshold must be reduced.”
There are further concerns that the white paper ignores also the complex needs of the logistics industry. Heavily entwined with the food and drink industry as well as many other sectors, this could have a serious knock-on effect.