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Lower threshold for post-Brexit migrant salaries 'too high' for Northern Ireland

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Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce

Northern Ireland businesses have said a lowering of the threshold of earnings required for future migrants into the UK following Brexit is still insufficient for their needs.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is an independent body set up to advise the UK on migration.

Its report on a potential points-based migration and salary thresholds advised that a previous threshold of £30,000 for migrants wishing to enter the UK, could be lowered to £25,600. It said that a lower threshold would help recruit teachers and NHS staff.

But the MAC rejected calls for all UK regions to be able to set their own salary threshold.

The committee said regional salary thresholds would bring more complexity to a future migration system and make it possible to live in one region and work in another.

However, it said it could give consideration to a different salary threshold for Northern Ireland, because of its "distinctive" economic position.

Business groups here have said that the £25,600 level is still too high for Northern Ireland, where the average salary is £27,434, according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

However, sectors where there is high demand for overseas workers, such as care homes and the agri-food sector, tend to pay less than the average.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce, said the MAC had ignored recommendations made by Northern Ireland businesses and groups over the last two years.

"This risks limiting access to skills for many of our members across a wide-range of sectors," Ms McGregor said.

"While companies are investing more in homegrown skills, they will continue to need access to migrant skills at all levels for the foreseeable future.

"We will therefore continue to engage with the MAC to ensure that they give the regional rate the future consideration that they refer to in the report."

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses (NI), said the reduction in the salary threshold was a "step in the right direction". But he said that "there remains a need for a bespoke system for Northern Ireland".

"The report correctly identifies that the economic position of Northern Ireland is 'distinctive', and that the matter of a specific salary threshold is worthy of 'future consideration'," he added.

"We would urge the Government to take this into account when reviewing the MAC's recommendations."

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