Low-skilled foreign workers will not be eligible to receive visas under new post-Brexit rules revealed by the Government today, in a move that Johnson’s cabinet stated is designed to urge employers to ‘move away’ from depending on the ‘cheap labour’ workforce of Europe and invest in retraining and upskilling staff from the UK.
The Home Office stated that both EU and non-EU citizens seeking to come into the UK after the current period of free movement ends on December 31 2020 will be treated equally, and will be required to prove their skill level before being allowed to settle – the BBC reported.
However, opposition from the Labour Party argued that the new rules seek to create a ‘hostile environment’ for those seeking employment within the UK, and will, therefore, deter valuable talent from attempting to settle. In response, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the new system was about attracting the ‘best and brightest’ from around the world.
She told BBC Breakfast that the Government wants to ‘encourage people with the right talent’ and ‘reduce the levels of people coming to the UK with low skills’ and added that the ‘system would make sure that we have a high-skilled, highly trained and highly productive economy in the future’.
Much like systems that are currently in place in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the new system will employ a ‘points-based’ immigration system that will require overseas workers to speak English and have a skilled job with an ‘approved sponsor’.
If they meet these criteria exactly, they will be awarded up to and over 70 points to proceed with their intention. Other points will be added for level of education, the salary on offer and based on the shortages in each sector.
"It is important employers move away from a reliance on the UK's immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity and wider investment in technology and automation," the Government stated in a release published by the BBC.
However, many, such as Tijen Ahmet, Legal Director and Business Immigration Specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, have criticised the move. “Broken promises and lack of detail yet again,” Ahmet stated.
“Whilst the Government has taken on board some of Migration Advisory Committee (MAC’s) recommendations to lower the salary threshold and reduce qualification levels, as expected, there is no route for low skilled workers and the dilemma of how to fill the talent gap remains.
“To cushion the blow, there will be more youth mobility arrangements, giving 20,000 young people the opportunity to come to the UK every year. They will also substantially increase the number of seasonal workers in agriculture but having no general route for lower-skilled workers will make it impossible for some businesses to operate and even survive.
“Businesses have long been lobbying against closing the door to low skilled workers. However, sectors such as construction, hospitality, manufacturing and social care that rely heavily on low skilled workers that historically have been sourced from the EU, will now face major labour challenges.
“Organisations must now be acutely focussed on planning what action they can take to face the shortage of low skilled labour from 2021, whether that is upskilling local talent and investing in staff retention or reshaping their recruitment focus altogether,” she concluded.
Tom Hadley, Director of Policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, added: “Skills and staff shortages are one of the biggest challenges facing the UK economy. Roles in sectors as diverse as social care, hospitality and construction are already hard to fill which is why we need an evidence-based immigration policy that reflects the needs of employers.
“Jobs the government considers ‘low-skilled’ are vital to wellbeing and business growth. The announcement threatens shut out the people we need to provide services the public rely on. This would increase the likelihood of illegal working and exploitation. In the US, more than half of farmworkers and 15% of construction workers are unauthorized. Nobody wants the UK to be in this position due to the lack of an official low-skilled immigration route where vulnerable workers will suffer.
“We need access to workers that can help us look after the elderly, build homes and keep the economy strong. Employers ask that there is a temporary visa route for businesses to recruit the essential skills they need at all pay and skill levels.”