New immigration rules threaten food labour

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Government's immigration strategy threatens to cut access to labour, warned the FDF
The Government's immigration strategy threatens to cut access to labour, warned the FDF
New immigration controls proposed by the Government to encourage the flow of skilled workers into the country threaten to hike up hiring prices and cut access to labour, according to members of the food and drink industry.

The white paper, The UK’s future skills-based immigration system, ​proposed only giving long-term access to workers from outside the UK joining British businesses on a salary of £30,000 or more – as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee.

A new route for low-skilled workers would also be developed, allowing migrants into the country on a 12-month visa to access the labour market. People arriving on this route would not be able to bring family members with them, would not accrue rights to settle in the UK, and would have a 12-month ‘cooling off’ period once their visa expired.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said the proposals failed to address the key challenges of how the UK food and drink industry would retain access to workers at every skill level.

‘Little incentive for workers’

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,” ​said Wright.

“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.”

While he welcomed the proposed removal of the resident labour market test and abolishing a cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into the UK, Wright called on the Government to go further and abolish the immigration skills charge and ensure the new system was truly streamlined.

He added: “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.”

Existing workers

The white paper makes no mention of the status of migrants already working in the UK who earn less than the proposed £30,000 threshold.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson warned the proposals threatened to hike up the hiring price of new workers and put further pressure on the price of goods and services for consumers.

“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,”​ said Dickinson. “This threshold must be reduced.”

Sally Gilson, head of skills Campaigns at the Freight Transport association accused the white paper of ignoring the needs and concerns of the logistics industry, which supported every facet of the UK economy.

Catastrophic 

“With skills shortages already being experienced among many logistics careers, including heavy goods vehicles drivers (currently 52,000 short), warehouse workers and forklift operators,”​ said Gilson. “The loss of almost a quarter of a million European workers, currently employed in these logistics roles in the UK are no longer deemed ‘skilled’ by the government could be catastrophic.

“Especially for a sector which relies on these people and their particular knowledge and abilities to keep shelves stocked, factories supplied and businesses able to access the materials they need.”

National Farmers Union President Minette Batters raised concerns over government’s immigration proposals, particularly the emphasis on high-skilled workers. 

“Rather than focusing on the level of skill, government should consider the specific skills sets that are needed for each industry to thrive,”​ said Batters. “In the case of farming, this means continuing to produce safe, secure and affordable British food for the public.

“The proposed 12 month visa system for ‘low skilled’ workers would also be highly disruptive to many businesses. As currently proposed, it would cause massive problems for businesses which employ non-UK workers on a permanent basis and we urge government to recognise the need for continued access to this workforce.”

Immigration white paper

The White Paper proposals will, in line with the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee

  • Remove the annual cap on the number of work visas issued
  • Widen the skills threshold to include people with qualifications equivalent of A levels
  • End the requirement for labour market tests by employers wanting to sponsor a worker

Related topics: People, Regulation, Skills Gap

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