Pandemic sparks business fears over visa plan

The UK government's decision to press ahead with its post-Brexit, points-based immigration system has been branded "out of date" because of the economic realities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Business leaders and opposition politicians expressed opposition after the Home Office signified its continuing intention to introduce the new system at year's end by publishing new guidance over Easter for employers.The guidance stresses that under the new system, first unveiled in February, visas will be awarded on the basis of an individual's "specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations". There will be no specific entry route for most, so-called low-skilled workers.Yet the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted just how many of these workers - primarily EU nationals fulfilling such roles as farm and supermarket workers, home care staff and delivery drivers - are essential to the UK economy.Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, called for ministers to rethink their plans and "review what jobs are the most important" in British society.“This is not the right time to press ahead with reforms to the UK immigration system. The national effort needs to be focused on eliminating coronavirus, protecting jobs and getting the economy back on track,” he said.“This nation will recover from this crisis and ensuring that UK businesses have access to the workers they need will aid that recovery. From carers and cleaners to retail workers and drivers, the coronavirus pandemic is showing us how much we depend on people at all skill levels."It's a good time to refresh the underlying assumptions that actually underpin a lot of the government's plan on immigration. It's a blunt instrument to talk about the 'brightest and the best'. From carers and cleaners to retail workers and drivers, the current crisis is showing us how much we depend on people at all skill levels.“A temporary immigration route is essential for meeting the needs of every business in every sector of the economy. Post-Brexit and post-virus, this will help businesses succeed and support jobs and growth here in the UK.” Sophia Wolpers, Brexit and immigration policy manager at the business advocacy group London First, said: "It is becoming more and more apparent that the immigration system as it was designed and published weeks ago, is just not fit for this economy. "The coronavirus crisis has shown how many of the roles deemed to be lower-skilled are vitally important to the UK economy as a whole. Right now they are the some of the ones working hardest to make sure we stay alive.
"So the Home Office publishing the guidelines for employers is really putting the emphasis on how out of date their thinking is regarding what the economy really needs."Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour Party's shadow home secretary, described the release of the latest guidance as a "slap in the face" for many foreign workers.“These last few weeks have been a stark reminder, not that one should be needed, of the incredibly important contribution frontline workers make in our communities," he said.“Workers like nurses, carers, supermarket staff and refuse collectors are playing a vital role in saving lives and keeping our country running, often at risk to themselves. It will be a slap in the face to many of these workers to see themselves classed as low skilled and unwelcome in Britain."A Home Office spokesman said the government was committed to ending free movement and to introduce the new immigration system from January 1.“We want to give employers as much time as possible to prepare for the new system that will bring in the best and brightest to the UK, which is why we have published this guidance at this time," he added.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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