The Migration Advisory Committee’s long-awaited proposals to manage immigration after Brexit make worrying reading for many Cumbrian employers.
The Committee, which advises government on migration issues, is advocating an end to low-skilled immigration arguing that employers will be able to recruit the staff they need from the UK workforce.
Click here to read the Migration Advisory Committee’s report
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Cumbria faces particular challenges, which mean many of the arguments the Migration Advisory Committee makes don’t apply here.
“Last year Cumbria Chamber carried out research to feed into the Committee’s call for evidence. Our findings formed part of the British Chambers of Commerce’s response.
“We estimate there are at least 10,000 EU migrants working in Cumbria and the bulk of them are in the hospitality and food processing industries.
“We found hotels in the Lake District where 50 per cent of the workforce are migrants and we spoke to hoteliers who genuinely fear they might have to close if the supply of migrants dries up.
Click here to read the findings of our survey of Cumbrian employers
“The Committee argues that businesses will have time to adapt because the migrant workers who are here won’t leave overnight.
“The problem in that in many part of Cumbria there isn’t a pool of local labour to replace them when they do leave.”
Rob continued: “It’s not only businesses that employ migrants that are affected. If migrants go, all employers will be fishing in the same dwindling pool of local labour.
“South Lakeland and Eden have the lowest unemployment rate in the UK, 1.9%. If you’re a business there, the only way you can recruit locally is to poach staff from other employers – that’s simply shuffling the problem from one business to another.
“Then there is the long-term demographic factor. Cumbria’s working-age population is projected to fall by 9.5% by 2030 as the number retiring exceeds the number of young people joining the workforce.
“We need to attract younger people to come and live in Cumbria just to sustain the businesses we have, never mind grow. The Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals will make that harder.
“Through the British Chambers of Commerce, we made a cogent and compelling case for a flexible immigration policy that meets the needs of employers. It is bitterly disappointing that the Committee hasn’t listened.
“We will be writing to all six of Cumbria’s MPs, asking them to lobby against these proposals, which will without doubt damage businesses here.
“The Government doesn’t have to accept them and it is possible that Ministers will agree to a more flexible immigration policy in the Brexit negotiations as a quid pro quo for securing a trade deal.”
In the foreword to the report, Professor Alan Manning, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, accepts that “some sectors will lobby intensively against this proposal”.
But the report rejects granting exemptions for particular sectors or regions. The only exception the Committee is prepared to entertain would be a scheme for seasonal agricultural workers.
The report says: “There is no case for giving privilege to some lower-skilled sectors over others in access to labour.”
It does, however, advocate an expansion of Youth Mobility, a cultural exchange scheme for people aged 18-30 from Australia, New Zealand and several other non-EU countries. They can stay in the UK for up to two years to work and study but are not allowed to bring dependants.
Each country gets an annual allocation of places.
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers;
- No preference for EU citizens;
- Abolition of the Tier 2 cap restricting number of visas for higher-paid skilled immigrants while keeping the £30,000 salary threshold needed before someone can apply for a visa;
- Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge, which will apply to workers from the European Economic Area (EEA).
Rob added: “We support the recommendation to scrap the Tier 2 cap on skilled workers, having long called on the Government to drop this nonsensical restriction on accessing the best talent from around the world.
“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.”© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce