By Suzannah Murphy
Proposals set out by the UK government in a much anticipated White Paper intend to protect parts of the economy which are currently reliant on overseas labour once the UK has left the European Union.
Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated how the newly proposed system would be based on the UK’s needs and show that the UK is “open for business.” Mr Javid stated that net migration would come down to “sustainable levels” as a result of the biggest shake-up of immigration policy the UK has seen in over 40 years.
A key point of the White Paper includes the consultation on a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas from the European Union (EU). Although this provision already exists for migrants from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland, this threshold could heavily impact sectors reliant on EU labour. For example, the NHS and the manufacturing industry, which are major components of the Welsh economy.
Economics Professor Jonathan Portes, of King’s College London, stated this proposal will “hit Wales somewhat harder than the rest of the country.”
This would be because the average full-time earnings for Wales is significantly below the proposed £30,000 threshold. As EU migrants in the manufacturing sector would be below this threshold, companies would be required to pay higher wages to EU migrants, in order to sustain their workforce.
A manufacturing boss based in mid-Wales stated that 30% of his company’s staff are from EU countries due to there not being enough local workers to fill vacancies.
Contrastingly, Professor Portes, calls for the Welsh Government and businesses to press for a lower threshold of £20,000 to modestly mitigate the potential impact.
The body representing the NHS additionally states concerns regarding recruitment ability. Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, expressed that the Trust was “deeply concerned about what was going to happen.”
Cordery highlights how many essential NHS staff are paid under £30,000 including nurses, paramedics, midwives, junior doctors, among others.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, said the government had “disgracefully labeled workers on less than £30,000 as low-skilled,” when “our economy and public services are kept ticking by this majority of workers.”
Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, said that “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.”
Further proposals, as seen in the White Paper, indicate scrapping the current cap of 20,700 on the number of skilled workers such as doctors or engineers from the EU and elsewhere. Lower-skilled workers, from sectors such as social care and construction, can obtain 12-month visas (with a “cooling off” period lasting 12 months in between each individual application). Additionally, EU citizens visiting the UK will not be required to obtain visas.
Due to the substantial criticism following the release of this White Paper, it is uncertain whether this bill will be given legislative powers.