Trade fear as policy closes door on low-skilled labour

A new system to “end the reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour coming into the country” has come under fire from trade groups.

The Food & Drink Federation has expressed concern about businesses getting access to employees who won’t qualify under the new system – highlighting bakery assistants, meat processors and workers essential to the production of a “huge array of basic foodstuffs”.

Points-based immigration system

(A total of 70 points is required to be eligible to apply)

  • Offer of job by approved sponsor (20 points)
  • Job at appropriate skill level (20 points)
  • Speaks English at required level (10 points)
  • Salary of £20,480 (minimum) (0 points)
  • Salary of £23,040 – £25,599 (10 points)
  • Salary of £25,600 or above (20 points)
  • Job in a shortage occupation (20 points)
  • PhD in subject relevant to the job (10 points)
  • PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job (20 points)

Taking effect from 1 January 2021, the new system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions - with visas only given to those who gain enough points.

There will be no specific route for low-skilled workers, and it is estimated 70% of the existing EU workforce would not meet the requirements of the skilled worker route.

“Today is a historic moment for the whole country,” said home secretary Priti Patel. “We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down.”

However, the system has concerned some businesses, with UKHospitality declaring that ruling out low-skilled immigration would be “disastrous”. Here’s how trade groups have reacted:

FDF
Mark Harrison, policy manager (Employment and Access to Labour)

“Today’s announcement is a significant improvement on previous proposals for skilled workers. It is also encouraging to see the commitment to streamline the system, but it must also be made accessible and affordable for businesses of all sizes, many of which won’t have used the immigration system before.

“We have concerns about access to those potential employees who won’t qualify through these ‘skilled’ routes, such as bakery assistants, meat processors and workers essential to the production of huge array of basic foodstuffs, such as cheese, pasta and sausages.

“While we are committed to promoting the use of automation and technology in our sector, the benefits of such innovations will not be felt overnight and some food chain roles remain challenging to automate.

“We believe a route for entry-level workers should be introduced, which retains control of immigration while also supporting business needs, incentivising upskilling, and boosting productivity.”

UKHospitality
Kate Nicholls, chief executive

“Ruling out a temporary, low-skilled route for migration in just 10 months’ time will be disastrous for the hospitality sector and the British people. Business must be given time to adapt.

“These proposals will cut off future growth and expansion and deter investment in Britain’s high streets. It will lead to reduced levels of service for customers and business closures. Hospitality is already facing an acute labour shortage, despite investing significantly in skills, training and increasing apprenticeships for the domestic workforce.

“This announcement fails to recognise that hospitality is at the heart of every community in the UK.

“We understand the government’s desire to deliver on the referendum result and its aim of moving to a skills-based immigration system. We fully support the ambition to upskill the domestic population and provide opportunities for people in every part of the UK. These proposals fail to deliver on the government’s own objective of providing an immigration system that works for the UK’s economy and its people.”

British Beer & Pub Association
Emma McClarkin, chief executive

“The new points-based immigration system will present significant challenges for our sector. Many pubs rely on workers from overseas, so it is hard to see how they will cope with such fundamental changes coming into effect in just 10 months. Pubs will especially struggle with the costs and complexities of becoming a sponsoring employer in order to take on staff from outside the UK.

“The new points-based system should recognise the staff shortages our sector faces, therefore enabling talent coming to the UK to work in pubs by making up points elsewhere. We will continue to press our case with the Government to ensure they understand this need, so that the pub and hospitality sectors continue to thrive. We believe it is crucial that, for example, the Youth Mobility Scheme is now expanded to help facilitate this.”

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