Immigration white paper sparks staff shortage fears

Business will face a shortage of low-skilled staff under immigration proposals announced today, industry groups have warned.

A £30,000-a-year minimum salary threshold the Government plans to set for all migrant workers is far too high, trade chiefs said in response to today’s white paper on immigration.

The paper proposes replacing the current system of admitting only highly-skilled workers from outside the EU, and workers of all skill levels from the EU, with a single route.

Under the plans, workers would have to earn at least £30,000, although the paper says government will discuss with businesses and employers what salary threshold should be set.

Also proposed, as a transitional measure, is allowing short-term workers to come for a maximum of 12 months, followed by a 12-month ‘cooling off’ period to prevent people working in the UK permanently.

The bakery industry and associated trades rely heavily on low-skilled workers, and concerns have already been raised about the plans.

“The £30,000 minimum income requirement for workers coming to the UK is far too high,” said British Sandwich Association (BSA) director Jim Winship. “It needs to be around £20,000 in London and between £15-18,000 outside London, depending on the location.”

He added that only allowing low-skilled workers to come to the UK for a year is too little.

“At the very least it should be two years to allow for training and for businesses to see a return on their investment.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) voiced similar concerns, saying the proposals would see retailers face rising hiring costs for new workers, putting pressure on the price of goods and services for consumers.

 “Setting the main cut-off for hiring workers from outside the UK at £30,000 would leave retailers and their supply chains recruiting from a very small pool of domestic labour, the vast majority of whom are already in work,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson, adding it should be reduced.

“Further proposals for a temporary 12-month visa for those earning under £30,000 would embed unnecessary cost and churn into the recruitment process and undermine the work currently being done by retailers to attract and retain colleagues.”

The government also plans to remove a cap on the number of skilled workers being admitted, which the BRC said was a positive.

THe BSA said it welcomed a review of the UK immigration rules which it described as not working for the sandwich industry in the current Brexit climate.

"Businesses in the food industry are already struggling to fill vacancies because of the uncertainties over Brexit and this will get worse unless the rules are relaxed. We know of restaurants that are unable to open due to staff shortage," added Winship.

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