Immigration into the UK should be weighted to prioritise ‘high-skilled workers’, according to a new government report that acknowledges there will be “winners and losers” post-Brexit.
Long-running campaigns from the hospitality industry have stressed that such a move would exacerbate the skills shortage in the industry.
Recommendations made in the report include fewer restrictions on higher skilled workers in comparison to low skilled workers – a bracket which includes the majority of hospitality roles. The report supports this decision with the argument that higher skilled workers “tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances”.
The report does not recommend introducing any sector based work-related schemes aside from seasonal agriculture workers – instead focusing on initiatives such as a youth mobility scheme to balance a shortage in temporary workers across other sectors.
The report recommends an end to the cap on the number of tier-2 visas, which offer a pathway to hospitality work for migrants, that can be issued, as well as a reduction of the necessary qualification level of entrants to level three, down from level six. It notes that the decision to raise the bar of qualification “excluded many hospitality, care and retail jobs.
However while this may represent a silver lining for the industry, the MAC recommend maintaining the minimum salary threshold of £30,000, often more than a catering professional will earn. The report notes that only 37% of level three qualified applicants across all industries would meet the salary threshold.
In his assessment of the report, committee chair 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.”
This is said despite the report concluding that the fall in the pound after Brexit is likely to have had a greater impact on UK wages than EU immigration has at any point since 2004.
Shortly after the findings were announced Fred Siriex, Maître d’hôtel for Galvin at Windows and star of Channel 4 show First Dates, tweeted “If visas are necessary post Brexit and hospitality workers are not classed as highly skilled workers who is going to work in our hotels, restaurants and bars? Are there any plans to improve professional education and grow home talents?”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality was similarly scathing, noting the “acute concern” in the industry over staffing and immigration, stating: “This sector must not be overlooked in the UK’s departure from the EU, otherwise there is a very real risk of tangible and long-term damage to a sector that employs 3 million people and generates a lot more than £350m a week to the public purse.”
She added: “It is disappointing and frankly illogical to see the MAC report place too much emphasis on the economic worth of individuals, rather than the wider benefits they bring to the UK. If preference is given to high-skilled workers from outside of the UK, then hospitality businesses will struggle to fill vacancies, investment will dwindle and businesses will suffer. Ultimately we will all lose because the guest experience will also suffer.
“The expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme is a welcome first step, but this needs to be much greater in focus and with a wider scope of ages. Widening of the Tier 2 visa to incorporate more occupations can help, but there is still concern that smaller businesses will be deterred. It is crucial that EU migration policy is factored into a future trade deal with the EU, for the benefit of Britain, the EU and all citizens.
“Any negative impact on hospitality businesses’ ability to employ is ultimately going to be felt by customers on high streets around the UK. We will be making these points to the Government, highlighting the dangers of a future immigration system that is disproportionately restrictive towards lower-skilled workers who are vital to the ongoing success of the hospitality sector and the wider UK economy.”
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Report: Bad news for hospitality with little political opposition
The Home Office confirmed it will be considering the MAC’s recommendations, while the Labour party’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott reiterated some of the points made in the report while calling for a more compassionate system when approaching non-EU nations.
The response from both makes the implementation of the report’s findings a likely possibility post-Brexit.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “After we leave the EU, we will take back control of our borders and put in place an immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.
“We commissioned this report in addition to our engagement with business to better understand the impact of EU citizens on the UK labour market. The government is clear that EU citizens play an important and positive role in our economy and society and we want that to continue after we leave.
“We will carefully consider the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations before setting out further detail on the UK’s future immigration system.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told the government “not to ignore” the report’s findings while hitting out at current Conservative policy.
She also outlined Labour’s commitment to level the playing field for non-EU migrants, although did not say if this would come from being more restrictive to European immigrants.
She said: “Ministers have said they will listen to the evidence on immigration. This would be a new departure for them, so they should not ignore the independent MAC report.
“Labour has said that our immigration policy needs to be based on our economic needs, while meeting our legal obligations and treating people fairly – which means ending the discrimination against non-EU migrants, especially from the Commonwealth. This is not what we get from the Tories, the party of bargaining chips, Go Home vans, and the hostile environment.”