Minister says 'scrap immigration salary threshold'

Michael Gove, UK Environment Secretary has called for a more flexible approach to the Government’s controversial salary threshold for overseas workers.

Fresh fish red snapper
Michael Gove, the UK's environment secretary, and a likely candidate in the contest to replace Theresa May as prime minister, has called for a rethink on the controversial £30,000 salary threshold for skilled workers from overseas, proposed in the government's post-Brexit immigration plan.Businesses have already voiced concerns over the threshold – outlined in the government's immigration White Paper in December – as they see it as a deterrent to their obtaining the overseas skills they need.

Home Secretary urged to look again at £30,000 salary threshold

Giving evidence to the Scottish government's Rural Economy Committee in Edinburgh, Mr Gove came out against his own government and said he had urged his Cabinet colleague, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, to "look flexibly" at immigration rules for skilled workers after Brexit to avoid shortages in certain sectors.Under December's proposals for a post-Brexit immigration system, low-skilled workers and those earning less than £30,000 a year, would no longer have an automatic right to work in the UK.Last week in a speech in Scotland, Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, called for the £30,000 salary threshold to be ditched and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has branded the immigration proposals “an act of vandalism”.Mr Gove said that assessing whether a migrant worker qualified as skilled by their salary was not appropriate for all industries.

Proposal would harm businesses that rely on foreign labour

Questioned by the committee about vacancies of approximately 30 per cent in the fish processing sector in Scotland, Mr Gove said the proposal on minimum earnings to enable a worker to be allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit would harm businesses that rely on foreign labour."Pitching the level at which you define a skilled worker as someone earning over £30,000 a year wasn't actually responsive to the particular needs – not just of the fish processing sector – but the food and drink sector overall," he said."One of the points that I have made to the Home Secretary and others is that we look flexibly at how we interpret what a skilled worker is in line with specific industries."

Access to talent both home grown and from abroad

Mr Gove said he had visited Nolan Seafoods in Aberdeen earlier in the month and appreciated, “the vital importance of making sure that you have access to talent, both home grown and from abroad”. He added, “There are people who are highly skilled working in processing, who will earn less than £30,000 and we must make sure we have access to that talent. “Anyone who has seen the state-of-the-art facilities at somewhere like Nolan Seafoods will appreciate it is absolutely at the cutting edge of technology. But it is also the case that you need skilled manual labour alongside it in order to ensure high quality seafood is delivered in the way the customer wants. “So you are absolutely right and one of the points I have made to the home secretary and others, is that we need to look flexibly in making sure we interpret what a skilled worker is, in line with the needs of specific industries.” 

An open approach to immigration

Mr Gove also called for, "an open approach" to immigration when asked about an immigration pilot scheme allowing the recruitment of up to 2,500 workers on six-month visas between the spring of 2019 and December 2020."There has been an enthusiastic take-up of places on our seasonal agricultural workers pilot and we've been recruiting from just beyond the EU, in places like the Ukraine and Moldova," he said."The pilot at the moment is smaller than some would have wanted, but I think that the enthusiastic take-up helps us to make the case for a potential expansion of numbers that come in through the seasonal agricultural workers' scheme."
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