The new Immigration White Paper is mixed news for London businesses. Importantly and positively, the Government took account of business’ calls and evidence by lowering the salary threshold for skilled workers: a £30,000 threshold would been disastrous for London’s businesses. Confirmation of the decision to lift the cap on skilled workers coming to the UK is also positive.
A new salary threshold of £25,600 will generally apply – though a lower salary threshold of £20,480 will be set for occupations where the UK has a skills shortage, such as in nursing, or if the workers are qualified to a PHD level. We look forward to seeing more details of how the ‘shortage occupation’ list will be constructed and how the MAC will keep it up to date.
However, lower paid and so-called lower skilled jobs are likely to be significantly affected. Within the London retail sector, 163,000 jobs are paid below the lower threshold. Likewise, businesses in social care (with 140,000 jobs under the threshold) and hospitality (93,000 under) will need time to adapt. Most of these jobs will likely not meet the skills threshold, so even if paid more they will be unable to access the system. This is concerning as many of these sectors have traditionally struggled to attract sufficient numbers of UK born applicants, a worry that is compounded by the existing labour shortage in the UK.
It’s proposed that the skills threshold for foreign nationals aiming to work in the UK will be lowered from university degree level to A‑levels/advanced apprenticeship degree or equivalent. Widening the threshold to medium skilled jobs is positive but not enough jobs requiring skills at this level currently have an apprenticeship degree that correlates.
And there’s still uncertainty about how the new system will be delivered. The Home Office aims to introduce the new system by Autumn – but this is a herculean task and gives employers precious little time to adjust their systems and apply for the necessary licenses. The new system needs to be far simpler and more streamlined to ensure that SMEs — many using the system for the first time — are able to navigate it without expensive legal advice. To ensure that the roll-out of the system works, the Government needs to support it with a broad engagement and communications strategy otherwise we risk increasingly encountering cases of wrongful discrimination of foreign workers.
Most London businesses depend on a workforce sourced from all skills levels: many will struggle without access to cleaners, catering staff or the construction workers they need to keep their businesses running in 2021. That’s why will continue to push for a two-year temporary visa so that vital sectors like hospitality, social care and logistics have time to adapt. A transition of this scale has almost no modern parallel and should not be rushed – especially when our economy needs to be at #fullstrength to take advantage of the new opportunities emerging next year.
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