UK business leaders have urged Boris Johnson’s government to loosen its planned rules for post-Brexit migration, notably by dropping the minimum income needed to live and work in the UK.
After officially leaving the EU next week, and promising to end freedom of movement, the UK government wants to focus on attracting ‘high skilled’ workers to the UK, based on the ‘points-based’ system used by Australia.
It has accepted a recommendation from the independent Migration Advisory Committee to introduce a minimum annual salary requirement of £30,000 (€36,000) for ‘skilled migrants’ seeking five-year visas.
However, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), published on Friday (24 January), revealed that 35% of small firms in the UK hire staff who are classed as ‘high-skilled’ on jobs with salaries on lower than £30,000. Over 80% of those businesses added that they could not afford to increase salaries to meet the threshold.
58% of businesses surveyed also stated that the income threshold should be lowered in instances where workers already in the UK are struggling to fill a job.
“With overheads for small firms mounting – not least due to rising business rates, utility bills and wider staff costs – the extension of the £30,000 threshold threatens to cause serious disruption to a labour market already beset by skills shortages and limited vacancies. The first response of small business owners to rising wages is generally to cut their own pay – they can only cut so far though,” said FSB Chairman Mike Cherry.
“The potential inflexibility of the threshold… will leave those who rely on international talent incredibly concerned for the future,” he added, saying that “the £30,000 figure has to be looked at again, and a more sensible threshold of £20,100 rolled-out for skilled workers.”
Meanwhile, a similar message was taken in a letter published on Friday from the leaders of more than 30 trade associations to Home Secretary Priti Patel also calling on the government to show more flexibility.
The income threshold has been widely criticized across a range of economic sectors. The £30,000 figure is significantly higher than the average wage in the UK and higher than the salary for newly qualified nurses, teachers and junior doctors, for example.
In addition to dropping the minimum salary threshold, they also called for flexibility for skilled workers to enter the UK through a points-based system and a temporary two-year visa route for high-demand economic sectors.
A review of the proposals was ordered by the last government and is set to be published next week.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]