Changes to the UK’s immigration rules could “spell absolute disaster” for the care system and risk farmers, builders and hospitality businesses being hit the hardest, industry leaders have warned.
The Government came under fire for telling employers they will “need to adjust” after deciding it will not offer visas to low-skilled migrant workers after Brexit.
A policy statement outlining plans for a new points-based system after freedom of movement ends said the economy needs to move away from a reliance on “cheap labour from Europe”.
The changes are designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year but aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get UK visas.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned care, construction, hospitality, food and drink companies could be most affected by the changes.
Industry leaders hit out at the lack of provision for low-paid workers in the proposals while lawyers urged the Government “not to turn the tap off overnight” if companies struggle to recruit staff under the new system.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said the plans “spell absolute disaster for the care sector”.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, raised concerns that the proposals will “not meet the health and care needs of the population”.
The UK Homecare Association said it was “dismayed” by the Government’s decision, adding: “Cutting off the supply of prospective careworkers under a new migration system will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care.
“Telling employers to adjust, in a grossly underfunded care system, is simply irresponsible.”
National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters expressed “serious concerns” about the Government’s “failure to recognise British food and farming’s needs” in the proposals.
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Mark Harrison, of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), raised concerns about bakers, meat processors and workers producing food like cheese and pasta not qualifying under the new regime.
The “firm and fair” system will instead “attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services”, according to the policy paper published on Tuesday evening.
But it added: “We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route.
“We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation.
“Employers will need to adjust.”
The EU Settlement Scheme, designed to give EU citizens permission to stay and work in the UK after Brexit, will “provide employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands”, the paper said.
Expanding a seasonal workers scheme and arrangements with eight countries to welcome young people to the UK will also help employers but they are expected to take “other measures to address shortages”, the paper said.
The document added: “We recognise that these proposals represent significant change for employers in the UK and we will deliver a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months.
“We will keep labour market data under careful scrutiny to monitor any pressures in key sectors.”
Employers have until January 1 2021 to meet the requirements and ensure their staff have a right to work in the UK.
The plans will see the UK have “full control over who comes to this country” for the “first time in decades”, according to the paper.
EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally with criminal background checks carried out on everyone coming to the UK – affecting applications of anyone who has been given a prison sentence of 12 months or more.
People who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.
Points will be awarded for key requirements like being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.
“Top priority” will be given to those with “the highest skills and the greatest talents”, like scientists, engineers and academics – who may not need a job offer to be allowed in.
Other points will be awarded for certain qualifications and if there is a shortage in a particular occupation.
Announcing the policy during a visit to Imperial College in west London, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the PA news agency: “It is right that people should speak English before they come to our country, that they should have a sponsored route, whether it’s through employment or a sponsored route through an academic institution.”
But the Liberal Democrats claimed the proposals were based on “xenophobia” and not the “social and economic needs of our country”.
While Labour criticised the post-Brexit immigration system, saying it would need so many exemptions it would be “meaningless” and could make it difficult for the UK to attract workers.
The salary threshold for skilled migrants will be lowered to £25,600 for those coming to the UK with a job offer and there may be concessions for those earning no less than £20,480 as long as they still meet certain requirements or their occupation is short of staff.
Fees for work visas are expected to remain largely the same at around £1,200.
Last month, independent adviser the Migration Advisory Committee said replacing freedom of movement with a points-based immigration system after Brexit could cut economic growth and may have “zero effect” on providing more British jobs for British workers.