Low-paid migrants ban ‘disaster’ as builders, bakers and carers all face big hit

Boris Johnson has been warned his ban on low-paid migrants will spell "disaster" amid a furious backlash to the Tories' new immigration system.

Industry chiefs say builders, waiters and carers are among those facing the biggest hit when a £25,600 salary threshold kicks in from 1 January 2021.

The Home Office has told firms they will simply "need to adjust" after deciding the government will not offer visas to low-skilled migrant workers after Brexit.

But Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said the plans "spell absolute disaster for the care sector".

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned care, construction, hospitality, food and drink companies could be most affected by the changes.

And lawyers urged the Government "not to turn the tap off overnight" if companies struggle to recruit staff under the new system.

Home Secretary Priti Patel today insisted there would be routes in for people like Polish builders if needed – because the system would be kept under review.

But she refused to say if her parents, who fled to Britain from Uganda in the 1960s, would have been allowed in under her own system.

"This isn't about my background," she told LBC Radio. "This is a very different system to what has gone on in the past."

How will the system work?

After Brexit people will have to earn over £25,600, have a job offer and speak English to a certain level in order to get a work visa.

There will be some exceptions for people who earn between £20,480 and £25,600 in shortage areas like the NHS, or for people who have a PhD relevant to their job.

But there will be no temporary or general visa options for "low-skilled" migrant workers – who are defined partly by their salary.

Employers have until January 1 2021 to meet the requirements and ensure their staff have a right to work in the UK. 

EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally with criminal background checks carried out on everyone coming to the UK – affecting applications of anyone who has been given a prison sentence of 12 months or more.

People who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.

Points will be awarded for key requirements like being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.

"Top priority" will be given to those with "the highest skills and the greatest talents", like scientists, engineers and academics – who may not need a job offer to be allowed in.

Fees for work visas are expected to remain largely the same at around £1,200.

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Care firms fear a massive staffing shortage

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, fears the proposals will "not meet the health and care needs of the population".

The UK Homecare Association said it was "dismayed" by the Government's decision, adding: "Cutting off the supply of prospective careworkers under a new migration system will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care.

"Telling employers to adjust, in a grossly underfunded care system, is simply irresponsible."

Ben Gershlick, Senior Economist at the Health Foundation, said: "The government’s new immigration system looks set to make our social care crisis even worse.

"Without any specific migration route for social care workers, these proposals will make it almost impossible for people from overseas to come and work in most jobs in this sector.

"Migrants are a crucial part of the social care workforce.

"Around 17% of people working in adult social care in England are non-British nationals. In London it is more like 40%. With workforce vacancies currently at around 122,000, the social care system depends on staff from overseas."

Fears for farming, food and drink

National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters expressed "serious concerns" about the Government's "failure to recognise British food and farming's needs" in the proposals.

Mark Harrison, of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), raised concerns about bakers, meat processors and workers producing food like cheese and pasta not qualifying under the new regime.

The "firm and fair" system will instead "attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services", according to the policy paper published on Tuesday evening.

But it added: "We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route.

"We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation.

"Employers will need to adjust."

More than 3million EU citizens who are already in Britain, or who arrive by 31 December 2020, will not be subject to the new rules.

Instead they have the EU Settlement Scheme, designed to give EU citizens permission to stay and work in the UK after Brexit.

The paper claimed it will "provide employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands".

What about seasonal workers?

Expanding a seasonal workers scheme and arrangements with eight countries to welcome young people to the UK will also help employers but they are expected to take "other measures to address shortages", the paper said.

The document added: "We recognise that these proposals represent significant change for employers in the UK and we will deliver a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months.

"We will keep labour market data under careful scrutiny to monitor any pressures in key sectors."

But British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall said: “The speed and scale of these changes will require significant adjustment by businesses."

What about Scotland?

The SNP and others have slammed the government for failing to bring a 'regional' variation in the system – which could have taken account of the specific needs of Scotland.

James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "Salary thresholds should be variable across sector and region, to reflect the needs of different employers, alongside a reformed and devolved skills and employment system to tackle the existing national skills shortages."

SNP MP Stuart McDonald said: " Boris Johnson’s crackdown on so-called low skilled migration will devastate sectors such as hospitality, social care, agriculture and scientific research.

"Many key industries across Scotland will no longer have access to vital workers we desperately need.

“The total absence of any reference to Scotland, to remote areas, or the self-employed is extraordinary.

"And while the paper is almost silent on families, we know that many thousands more couples will be split apart and parents separated from their kids, by extending the scope of the harsh family visa rules."

What have political rivals said?

The Liberal Democrats claimed the proposals were based on "xenophobia" and not the "social and economic needs of our country".

Labour criticised the post-Brexit immigration system, saying it would need so many exemptions it would be "meaningless" and could make it difficult for the UK to attract workers.

Tim Roache, GMB union General Secretary, said: “This is a knee-jerk policy that poses huge risks to the economy. This could genuinely tip some businesses over the edge.

“The Home Secretary has started a ticking clock with seemingly no plan and failed to provide any strategy to secure and sustain key industries.

“Scapegoating migrants and playing to the gallery may get some cheap headlines, but it’s wrong and put whole sectors – such as social care and food, not to mention the NHS – at risk.”

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