Businesses uneasy over new UK immigration proposals

Business reaction to UK immigration policy white paper is mixed, with positive responses to reforms for skilled workers but fears over lower skill jobs, added EU visa red-tape and temporary workers.

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British businesses - many of which are facing mounting skills shortages - gave a distinctly lukewarm reception to the government's proposals for a post-Brexit immigration policy, outlined in a white paper published on Wednesday.

Positive response on recruitment for skilled roles to reduce skills gap

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said that while he was grateful the new policy emphasised the need to attract talent from across the world, some of the proposals gave rise to "great concern".“British manufacturers need a future migration system that allows them to recruit critical mid-skilled roles such as engineering technicians; the UK has a significant skills gap. Today, the government has listened and responded to EEF’s arguments," he said."We are pleased that graduates from the EU and the rest of the world will be able now to work in the UK post Brexit and the skills route has been expanded to enable employers to recruit from the EU at technician levels too. These are significant changes.“Removing the time-consuming resident labour market test, abolishing the arbitrary annual cap and giving international students more time to stay in the UK after their studies to find work are additional EEF asks which have also been delivered and which will help our economy."

Cost of recruiting EU workers will rise with visas and bureacracy

However, many other proposals still cause great concern. Employers will now need to pay thousands of pounds to cover the costs of visas, the immigration skills charge and the health surcharge for new EU workers as well as work through a complex bureaucracy to do so; many companies simply can’t afford this.“Further the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold would undo the benefits to business of expanding the skilled route. We will be making these points loudly and firmly to government in the upcoming consultation.”Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, described the proposals as "not quite as bad as we had originally feared".He added, "It’s no secret that companies across the UK are sceptical about whether the government’s approach will actually deliver on their practical, real-world concerns.“From Cornwall to Inverness, from Northern Ireland to Norfolk, employers are hugely concerned that the complexity and cost associated with new immigration rules will impact their ability to invest and grow at a time when many areas are facing near-full employment.“The government is giving with one hand, and taking away with the other. More flexibility on skill levels is positive, but this is offset by the wider application of immigration charges to both employers and applicants alike.“The consultation ahead must result in a system that delivers on business needs in all regions and nations of the UK. Ministers have one last chance not just to listen, but to genuinely hear and act on the concerns that businesses have about their proposals."

Concern over minimum salary threshold for visas and temporary worker schemes

Dr Marshall added that the current, arbitrary salary threshold of £30,000 for Tier 2 visas must come down "to reflect real-world conditions in different parts of the UK", and that the government must ensure the proposed temporary worker scheme actually functioned both for companies and potential recruits.“In the face of major change over the years ahead, the immigration system must not leave UK businesses with their hands tied – or the government will cause active damage to jobs, communities, investment and the economy,” he said.Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of the lobby group London First, also expressed concerns over the future level of the minimum salary requirement for skilled workers.“A single, global immigration system which does away with pointless caps and quotas is good for business and the economy — employers want to be able to hire the right person for the job, regardless of where they’re from," she said.“It’s clear government has heard what we’ve had to say on the existing £30,000 salary threshold not working – if it was applied across the board, nearly half the people employed in London wouldn’t be working here."To keep our economy and critical public services at full strength, we’re calling for it to be lowered to match the London Living Wage of £20,155. That would keep the UK open to a range of skills, ensure workers are decently paid and could adjust as more British workers were trained up to plug skills shortages.“It is critical employers have enough time to adapt to any changes to avoid a recruitment cliff-edge. The government must also ensure data on the numbers of people coming in and out is accurate to help restore public confidence in the system, given the huge contribution immigration makes to the UK.”

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