Trade bodies warn over plan to prioritise high-skilled staff

Industry bodies UKhospitality, UKinbound and Etoa, the European tourism association, have voiced concerns about a new government report which says immigration to the UK should prioritise “high-skilled workers” after Brexit.

While acknowledging there will be “winners and losers” after Brexit, the report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) argues that higher-skilled migrant workers “tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances” than low-skilled workers.

It recommends maintaining a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 and notes that the decision to raise the bar of qualification “excluded many hospitality, care and retail jobs”.

However, long-running industry campaigns have stressed that such a move would exacerbate the skills shortage – and tourism and hospitality bosses warned the recommendations would hit their sectors as they rely on lower-skilled migrant staff.

UKHospitality said the plan would “drive worker shortages and undermine a major part of the UK economy, which employs over three million individuals”.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “There is acute concern from this industry – which is a huge employer and significant part of the UK economy – that a new system that does not take into account the fundamental challenges being faced by the sector will only ensure that businesses, their employers and customers are the losers.

“The sector invests significantly in its domestic workforce, employing more than two million British workers and providing jobs in every region.

“The MAC report acknowledges the ongoing need for medium- and lower-skilled workers but this cannot be met domestically.

“The hospitality sector workforce needs supporting with additional non-UK nationals and many of them will be from the EU.”

UKinbound chairman Mark McVay welcomed the recommendation that there should be fewer restrictions for higher-skilled migrant workers, but highlighted the fact that the industry relies on “low-skilled” employees.

“The UK tourism industry – which last year generated £24.5 billion from international visitors – is heavily reliant on migrant workers which the MAC would deem ‘low-skilled’,” he said.

“The skills that our industry needs most are great interpersonal, communication and language skills.

“Since the Brexit Referendum, many of our members have struggled to recruit workers with the right skill set in the UK and further restrictions could damage the industry.”

Tom Jenkins, Etoa chief executive, said: “The MAC report makes some welcome noises. It is good to have recognised that EU migrants contribute significantly to the UK economy. It is also heartening to hear that their role is vital in many areas.

“The problem with this report is that the proposed solution – a widening of the Tier 2 system – is wholly impractical.

“Currently UK businesses can freely source from a talent pool of 500 million EU citizens. This will shrink by 90%.

“In extending the Tier 2 system to ‘embrace’ EU citizens, the MAC is advocating an expansion of a highly restrictive and bureaucratic procedure.

“For those who use it, Tier 2 can be a nightmare. It requires elaborate form filling, a minimum stipulated wage, extensive justifications for hiring the worker and a limbo period that can be weeks.

“When we surveyed our members on this, 85% who had experience of the Tier system described it ‘difficult to impossible’.

“This is not a Brexit reduction in red tape, but the opposite. We will have nowhere near the number of workers that we need.”

MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning said: “There is no way to change the migration system without creating winners and losers.

“But we believe the UK should focus on enabling higher-skilled migration coupled with a more restrictive policy on lower-skilled migration in the design of its post-Brexit system.”