Businesses uneasy over new immigration plan

Business leaders in the UK have reacted with unease after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the points-based immigration system he intends to introduce if the Conservatives win Thursday's general election.

Business groups expressed fears that the plan could leave some sectors of the economy facing a shortage of workers and said that Mr Johnson's proposals still lacked detail about how the new system would actually operate.In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Johnson said there would be three categories of post-Brexit visas.The first would cover highly-educated migrants of "exceptional talent", entrepreneurs and investors who would be allowed to move to, and settle permanently in, the UK without a job offer.A second category would cover skilled professionals, such as doctors and engineers, who would be eligible for fast-track visas if they had a job offer and who would also be entitled to settle permanently in the UK.The third category would cover what Mr Johnson described as "low skilled" workers who would be covered by sector-specific, rules-based schemes. Their visas would be time limited and they would not be allowed to remain permanently in the country.Additionally, Mr Johnson said the government's independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) would be charged with producing an annual report advising on how to lower overall net migration, while meeting the needs UK's economic needs and improving productivity.Matthew Fell, UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the proposals put “too heavy an emphasis on the brightest and best” and not enough on the lower-level skills many sectors of the economy relied upon.“Low-level skills are still very much in demand for business,” he said. “Many industries are dependent on such workers, from hospitality and construction to agriculture and the care sector.“Workers needed to boost economic growth must feel welcome in the UK. Until there is more detail, these plans will leave them nervous.”Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies were still unclear about whom they would be able to hire from abroad when the proposed system came into force in January 2021, or on what terms. “Our membership are overwhelmingly based in the regions and nations and every town and every country that you go to across the UK, you hear about the gaps that employers are struggling to fill,” he said.“That applies to lower-skilled, medium-skilled or high-skilled roles, and this does not reflect a failure to try to hire locally or train workers properly.”Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University and a member of the MAC, said Mr Johnson’s post-Brexit proposals went “roughly in the direction we were expecting".
She added: “It’s a lot more restrictive than free movement, so for certain employers there would still probably be difficulties transitioning from a system where there’s no bureaucracy attached and where they can hire people very easily, to one where they’d have to hire people temporarily or not at all.“I don’t want to suggest that there’s no change. It is a more restrictive system than the one we have now, on the whole. But, by international standards, I would say it’s a relatively mainstream system.”
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London and senior fellow at the research group UK in a Changing Europe, said the proposals were "not radical" and might eventually not look too different from the existing system.But he added: “There’s a damaging misconception in this debate that there’s a binary divide between the brain surgeons and the people who pick strawberries. Most ordinary immigrants are somewhere in between - doing jobs that require skills but aren’t necessarily highly skilled - and they would not pass this particular test.“Butchers for example or people who work in abattoirs – this is hard work and you need training. Most come from Eastern Europe but are unlikely to make the highly skilled cut.”Prof Portes said Mr Johnson's and other ministers' use of the phrase “Australian-style” points system was misleading because the UK plan did not include an essential element of the Australian system.
“If you score certain points for your qualifications, then Australia will let you in without a job offer. Johnson isn’t proposing that for the UK. If he was, then that would be radical,” he said.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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