White paper widely criticised
Immigration plans ‘fail to meet needs of Scottish economy’
Tracy Black: ‘proposals do not meet Scotland’s needs’ (pic: Terry Murden)
A post-Brexit immigration system proposed today by Home Secretary Sajid Javid was roundly criticised by business groups as failing to meet the needs of the economy.
CBI Scotland said it would be a “sucker punch” for many firms and would leave companies worse off, while the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland demanded an “urgent rethink”.
Low-skilled workers from EU countries would no longer have the automatic right to work in the UK after Brexit, prompting concerns about how to fill thousands of vacancies in sectors such as agriculture, care, hospitality, health, construction and retail. These low-skilled workers will be restricted to short-term visas of up to a year.
Sajid Javid: ‘plan delivers on instruction to get immigration under control’
The Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the plans – due to come in from 2021 irrespective of whether or not there is a Brexit deal – did not include a “specific target” for reducing numbers coming into the UK but they would bring net migration down to “sustainable levels”.
The current cap on the number of skilled workers such as doctors or engineers from the EU and elsewhere would be scrapped. However, there would be a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants, a threshold which already applies to non-EU workers.
Mr Javid described the White Paper as “delivering on the clear instruction to get control over our borders and will bring in a new system that works in the interest of the British people.
“It will be a single, skills-based immigration system built around the talent and expertise people can bring, rather than where they come from – maximising the benefits of immigration and demonstrating the UK is open for business.”
The SNP’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart McDonald said the white paper is driven solely by Tory politics. At Prime Ministers Questions he challenged Theresa May to set out a “single tangible benefit” that constituents will notice that will compensate for “lower earnings, lower standards of living & staff shortages in public services,” as a result of the proposals.
Business groups reacted with dismay to the proposals. Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, said: “The proposed system must command public confidence and support the economies of all parts of the UK. These proposals would achieve neither.
“The proposals outlined in the White Paper don’t meet Scotland’s needs or the needs of the UK as a whole, and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests people and regions will be poorer as a result of them.
“The Government cannot indulge in selective hearing. It tunes in to business evidence on a disastrous Brexit no deal, but tunes out from the economic damage of draconian blocks on access to vital overseas workers.
Andrew McRae: ‘clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses’
“The facts are clear. Brexit is cutting off the ability to recruit and retain staff for 9 out of 10 firms. Despite firms across the UK spending over £45 billion in training each year, staff shortages are already biting. Hospitals, housebuilders and retailers are all struggling to find the people they need at salaries well below £30,000.
“These proposals must change. And when a new system that will work is agreed, businesses across the UK must be given time to adapt. This means at least two years to implement the changes after the rules are finalised.
“Further consultation is needed to get this right for the whole of the UK, otherwise calls for devolved and regional immigration policies will only grow louder.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland demanded an urgent rethink, warning that the proposals will have a disproportionate impact on firms north of the border.
The small business campaign group is calling on UK Ministers to introduce a more flexible system that accommodates the skills needs of Scottish firms and the demographic demands of Scottish communities. FSB has written to the Secretary of State for Scotland outlining their concerns about the White Paper proposals.
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
FSB research has found that small businesses in Scotland are more reliant on labour and skills from the EU and more pessimistic about meeting their recruitment needs post-Brexit, compared to the UK average.
The post-Brexit immigration system will require small businesses who employ EU workers in future to, for the first time, use the UK’s points-based system. According to FSB survey work, 95% of smaller employers have never made use of this element of the immigration system.
Mr McRae said: “Requiring employers to grapple with what is currently a clunky and costly immigration system to hire international talent will have significant implications for the small business community in Scotland.”
Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “While these proposals are not quite as bad as we had originally feared, it’s no secret that companies across the UK are sceptical about whether the government’s approach will actually deliver on their practical, real-world concerns.
“From Cornwall to Inverness, from Northern Ireland to Norfolk, 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.”