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Post-Brexit immigration policy has a critical missing piece

ABPI welcomes focus on skills, but UK must respond fast to skills gaps

Brexit

The UK government’s much-delayed white paper on immigration after Brexit has now been published, revealing a plan to scrap the current cap on skilled migrants that has been welcomed by industry.

There is however a big gap in the proposals due to be phased in from 2021, namely the minimum salary threshold for migrants to be able to secure five-year visas. This is viewed as critical if industries such as pharma and biotech and the NHS are to attract higher-skilled workers.

Widely expected to be set at £30,000 ahead of the White Paper publication, the actual figure is now being put to a consultation process – reportedly after infighting in the Cabinet – and that means the outcome won’t be clear until 2020, after the UK’s exit date from the EU.

The £30,000 figure has attracted a lot of controversy in the build-up, with healthcare commentators pointing out that nurses, junior doctors and other NHS workers such as physiotherapists and radiographers earn less than that amount per year. The NHS could therefore find it difficult to attract workers from overseas to tackle critical skills shortages that are hampering services.

There are currently more than 155,000 staff from EU countries making "an important and valued contribution to the health and care system” according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which also indicates that there were more than 100,000 unfilled NHS posts in June. The document came out just ahead of the immigration white paper.

Saffron

Saffron Cordery

Saffron Cordery, deputy CEO of NHS Providers, the body representing NHS trusts, said the organisation is “deeply concerned” about some of the measures in the proposals.

“High skilled does not equal highly paid,” she insisted, adding that the plans “will impact the ability of the health and care sector to recruit the number of people it needs to safely staff services and meet the future healthcare demands of the population.”

In general terms, a shift to a skills-based migration policy is a good thing, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which said it “welcomes the government’s ambition for a system which is open to highly-skilled professionals and life sciences students worldwide.”

However, ABPI CEO Mike Thompson cautioned that the UK’s future approach to immigration “must respond quickly to any skills gaps that arise, and we will continue to work closely with government as they finalise these proposals.”

The industry body wants the UK to negotiate an agreement with the EU27 that facilitates the movement of workers in the life sciences and is based on an immigration policy that is “needs-based, straightforward and rapid.”

Immigration was at the heart of the 2016 referendum campaign, with the Leave campaign promising that Brexit would allow the UK to regain control of its borders.

For an indication of just how problematic the issue of immigration has become in Europe, look no further than the resignation yesterday of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel after a vote of no confidence was tabled by opposition parties. His departure was prompted by the decision to sign the UN migration pact, which critics say could increase immigration and sparked violent protests in Brussels last week.

Low-skilled provisions also spark debate

UK government policy is that it wants to cut net migration to “tens of thousands” of people per year after Brexit. However, the new white paper also includes provisions to allow low-skilled workers to continue to come for up to 12 months at a time, even without a job offer, although they are unable to return for another 12 months after they head home.

The scheme is designed to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care which are heavily dependent on EU labour for a transitional period extending to 2025, but has been slammed by anti-immigration campaign Migration Watch as “caving in” to the demands of industry, particularly as there is no cap on low-skilled migrant numbers

Some sections of the industry aren’t happy either, however. Sectors reliant on low-skilled workers like social care argue that the short-term visas and barriers to securing them will encourage them to head to other European countries instead, leading to a labour shortage whe freedom of movement comes to an end.

There is reported to already be a shortfall of around 90,000 care workers in the UK, according to a BBC report.

Article by
Phil Taylor

20th December 2018

From: Healthcare

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