Back to Work Plan: Government “in danger of imposing blanket rules” on immigration

Back to Work Plan: Government “in danger of imposing blanket rules” on immigration

Responding to the Government’s ‘Back to Work Plan’, Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), said that the UK Government is “in danger of imposing blanket rules to achieve arbitrary migration targets, without considering the very different labour requirements and challenges of different industries.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly. | Image: UK Parliament

This comes as the Home Secretary, James Cleverly MP, announced a ‘Back to Work’ plan to slash migration levels and “curb abuse” of the immigration system, to deliver what the UK government claims is the biggest ever reduction in net migration.

It is estimated that the package of measure means that around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would now not be able to come.

From next spring, the Government will increase the earning threshold for overseas workers by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700, which the Government claimed will encourage businesses to look to British talent first and invest in their workforce. It said that the measures will also deter employers from over-relying on migration, whilst bringing salaries in line with the average full-time salary for these types of jobs.

As part of what it calls a “crackdown on cut-price labour from overseas”, the Government will end the 20% going rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List, which will retain a general threshold discount. The Migration Advisory Committee will review the new list against the increased salary thresholds in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list.

The Migration Advisory Committee will also be asked to review the Graduate visa route to “ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.”

Inevitable pressure on all sectors

“Using an average salary threshold figure of £38,700 fails to take into account that the average is made up of both higher and lower salaries; and it’s often in the lower bracket that worker shortages are most acute,” said Nick Allen, CEO of BMPA. “We agree that allowing migrant workers to be paid 20% less than the ‘going rate’ for a job is unfair, but raising the overall salary threshold for immigration isn’t the way to tackle this issue. Nor will it fix the problem of not enough British citizens being willing, available or able to fill these vacancies.”

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) echoed this sentiment, stating: “At a time when it is becoming harder to recruit and retain vets to work in abattoirs the rise in the earnings threshold for overseas workers to £37,800 is bound to place even greater pressure on the supply chain.”

Both trade bodies commented on the potential impact that the new package of measures would have on the existing job market and economic conditions.

Nick Allen said: “If the Government restricts the number of migrants that can come to the UK to fill the job vacancies that can’t be filled with British candidates, there will be an inevitable pressure on all sectors as they compete in a pool of workers that is simply not big enough to support a growing economy. In this scenario, it won’t be just private companies that struggle to recruit, but taxpayer-funded services will also suffer from worker shortages and higher costs.”

A spokesperson for AIMS furthered this: “If companies have to start paying migrant workers more than the ‘going rate’ for a particular job simply to achieve the threshold and fill a vacancy, this will very quickly spark wage inflation across many industries as existing UK workers demand the same salary. In the case of the food industry, this will fuel more food price inflation.”

Nick Allen
Nick Allen, chief executive of British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

A more granular approach

“BMPA supports the sector-by-sector and job-by-job approach to assessing workforce needs recently advocated by Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee,” Nick Allen continued.

“He describes a much more granular approach to identifying the industries and roles where the labour shortage is most acute. It makes much more sense for our industry where the current blanket approach isn’t working. This is because each plant can experience labour shortages for very different and localised reasons.”

AIMS said that, going forward, it would like to see the Home Secretary extend the Health and Care visa to now incorporate Vets. It added that it welcomes the announcement that the shortage occupation list will be reviewed, but noted that the objective is to reduce the number of occupations on the list.

The trade body concluded: “A free flow of labour will grow the UK economy and yesterday’s announcements appear to thwart that ambition.”

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