Key report on Brexit
Immigration ‘should favour highly skilled workers from anywhere’
Immigrants fill many skilled jobs in Britain (pic: Terry Murden)
A business group has accused the authors of a report on immigration rules in post-Brexit Britain of giving with one hand and taking with another.
The Migration Advisory Committee says there should be no cap on skilled workers entering Britain from anywhere in the world – which currently includes 20,700 a year from non-EU countries.
However, it should be less easy for unskilled workers to move to the UK.
“Higher-skilled workers tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances” than low-skilled workers, it said.
The committee said workers in EU should not be given priority. It said it did “not see compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules” for workers from the European Economic Area (EEA).
Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “From the perspective of businesses facing severe skills gaps, the MAC’s report gives with one hand and takes away with the other, and the recommendations are unlikely to meet the needs of all employers.
“Any sudden cut-off of EEA skills and labour would be concerning, if not disastrous, for firms across a wide range of regions and sectors.”
She said the MAC was right to call on the government to drop the non-sensical restriction on accessing the best talent from around the world.
“But businesses don’t just need the ‘best and brightest’ – industries such as agriculture, hospitality and social care rely on overseas labour to fill local shortages.
“Businesses will be frustrated by the Committee’s recommendation to extend the Immigration Skills Charge to EEA workers, further increasing costs at a time when three-quarters of firms are reporting skills shortages.
“Businesses are already questioning where this money goes and how funds are used to support vocational education here at home.
“Businesses’ experience over the years has been of an inflexible, bureaucratic and costly work permit and visa regime that has slowed or stopped them from getting the people they need to grow.
“The MAC is right to advise that the UK’s future system must reduce the delay, cost and bureaucracy of hiring the right people.”
Matthew Fell, CBI UK policy director, said:“This report provides useful insights but is not a roadmap for a new system.
“The findings are clear about the immigration dividend. Productivity and innovation benefit from migration, and training for UK workers increases. It finds barely any negative effects for jobs or wages for UK citizens.
“The critical recommendation missing from the report is that migration should be part of trade negotiations starting with the EU.
“The Migration Advisory Committee leaves this decision open to Government and says that it might be ‘something of value to offer in negotiations’.
“If it is the Government’s intention to implement a global system, preferential access for countries where the UK has trade deals will be essential to provide the basis for an open and controlled system that can work for the UK’s economy.
“The current non-EU visa system is highly bureaucratic and cannot be extended to EU workers without major reform, so the MAC is right to recommend scrapping the tier 2 cap. But these proposals don’t go far enough.
“But retaining the £30,000 salary threshold would block many essential workers from coming to the UK. Similarly, plans outlined for low-skilled workers are inadequate, and risks damaging labour shortages.”
The Russell Group, which represents the most prestigious universities, thinks the recommendations in the report from the migration advisory committee are “unimaginative and unworkable”.