The post-Brexit immigration system: A disaster for low-skilled industries?

As of the 1st of January 2021, the UK entered into a new points-based immigration system to reflect its position upon exiting the European Union. The new point-based system replaced the old tiered visa structure, which was in effect from 2008 until 2020. Under the new provisions, EU and non-EU citizens are treated equally, whereas previously EU citizens could exercise free movement and their right to work in the UK. The UK government states that anyone coming to the UK for work must meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points, excluding Irish citizens. Visas will then be awarded to those who gain enough points, allowing them to enter and work within the United Kingdom.

The Home Office stated in February 2020 that the aim of the new immigration system is to attract high skilled workers needed to contribute to the economy, giving priority to scientists, engineers, academics and other highly skilled individuals. This intention to “create a high wage, highskill, high productivity economy” has produced a sense of concern for those operating in low-skilled industries, with Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the employer’s group, stated that certain sectors are “left wondering” how they would recruit the people needed to run their businesses. The regulations will reduce the availability for visas for low-skilled migrant workers which will mean that an estimated 69 per cent of the existing EU workforce would not meet the requirements – a worry for the future of the UK economy and business performance.

However, low-skilled labourers were not prioritised in the old system either. The tier 3 visa, which was created specifically for workers who earned lower salaries – encompassing care, construction and hospitality sectors – was suspended before the system even came into force.

The new skilled worker route seems inclusive on the surface, yet is somewhat limited to lower-skilled individuals. It demands that migrants have a job offer at the required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A-level) and a general salary threshold of £25,600. If you do not meet this threshold, as most workers in the care and hospitality sectors will not, you can ‘trade’ points if your job is on the shortage occupation list or if you have a PhD. Higher qualifications often go hand in hand with higher salaries, making the tradable point route seem inclusive, but is generally not. It has subsequently been described by the trade union Unison, as ‘a disaster’ for the social care sector.

It is alarming that businesses among the construction, hospitality, care and food and drink industries may struggle to recruit staff, which will negatively affect their financial performance. If fewer people are coming to work in the UK, there are less people buying from UK businesses and paying taxes – this could be a worry for the country’s wealth in general as opposed to the future of individual businesses.

Due to the recentness of these policies being implemented, it is hard to evidence how far exactly businesses will be affected. Yet, it is expected that those that rely on EU migrants to fulfil their workforce’s needs will suffer a financial blow. Only time will ultimately tell the full effects of the new immigration system on lower-skilled industries.

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