Cross-sector coalition sets out blueprint to reform immigration system

#FullStrength campaign calls on the next Prime Minister to lower the salary threshold for overseas workers from £30,000 to £20,000, to avoid worsening skills shortages

Today (18 Jul) a coalition of prominent business and education bodies has written to both Prime Ministerial candidates calling for the Government to commit to clear action on reforming the immigration system to avoid worsening the chronic skills and labour shortages.

London First, in partnership with techUK, British Retail Consortium, Recruitment & Employment Confederation, UKHospitality, Federation of Master Builders, Universities UK, Innovate Finance, Association of Labour Providers, The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), and North West Business Leadership Team, collectively represent tens of thousands of businesses and employ millions of workers across all sectors and regions of the UK.

The group is calling for four reforms to: lower the salary threshold proposed in the Immigration White Paper from £30,000 to £20,000, extend the temporary work route for overseas workers from one year to two years, revise the sponsorship model to make it easier for firms of all sizes to bring in the overseas talent they need, and reinstate the two-year post-study visa for international students to work in the UK post-graduation.

The joint letter calls on the next Prime Minister to keep the UK at #fullstrength:

“Our country needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps it open to all levels of talent that our economy and local services sorely need. It is crucial that this system recognises the benefits of international talent whilst ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively, necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.

“Without the ability to access international talent, many of our world-class sectors are at significant risk. As the UK prepares to leave the EU in the near future, it is imperative that the Government puts in place measures that will avoid employers facing a cliff-edge in recruitment, and works towards building a successful economy that is open and attractive.”

More than 60% of all jobs in the UK currently fall under the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, which highlights the risk in setting the future level too high for vital services such as health and social care. Research based on ONS data shows that in manufacturing around 30% of jobs are paid between £20-30k, and in retail, 23.2% jobs sit in this bracket. Bringing down the level to £20,000 also moves it in line with the proposed skills threshold and the realities of the labour market. This can then be gradually increased as the economy improves.

The other reforms to the Immigration White Paper include:

  • A two-year temporary work route – increased from one year, which would allow companies to bring in overseas workers for a temporary period of up to two years, with a reciprocal cooling-off period. Workers should also be allowed to switch from this route to other routes, such as a skilled visa, while they are in the UK;
  • A reformed sponsorship model – reducing the costs and bureaucracy of the current system, making it easier for SMEs to use, as well as enabling endorsing bodies to sponsor freelancers and self-employed workers; and
  • Increase mobility of talent – by reinstating the two-year post-study visa for international students (increasing from the current time limit of just six months), extending the current youth mobility scheme to include EU citizens, and creating an improved 90-day business visitor visa - so that companies can move staff across offices to work on projects.

Commenting, Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive at London First, said:

“It is vital that the Government does all it can to keep the country at full strength at a time of great uncertainty. The thousands of businesses we represent are clear that without a bold move now on immigration reform, the skills shortages many companies face risk becoming even more acute.

“At a time of economic uncertainty, and a tight labour market, the future immigration system must support businesses across the country, and go hand in hand with increased investment in skills and training. These proposals will ensure that the UK can operate at full strength and attract talent needed to keep businesses competitive.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

“Retail relies on the contribution of 170,000 EU nationals throughout the industry, with more still across the supply chains. The future immigration system must support British business by enabling access to skills and labour in an affordable and timely manner. The current threshold of £30,000 is too high and therefore would prevent the retail industry from meeting the needs of its customers. We want the salary thresholds lowered, reflecting the range of skills required for the jobs.”

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive, Recruitment & Employment Confederation said:

“A healthy UK economy will need people coming from abroad to contribute at all skill levels, across a wide range of sectors. Our immigration system needs to be managed, but it must also be open - helping businesses to grow and create jobs for citizens and new arrivals alike. To build a truly Global Britain, we should welcome our friends, colleagues and family members who come here to add to our society and our economy, and the new Prime Minister and his team need to take these proposals from the Full Strength coalition seriously.

“Concrete responses to the proposals in our letter, which - amongst other things - calls for a two-year temporary work route (instead of one year as currently exists), will take some edge off the uncertainty around access to labour that Brexit is exacerbating.”

Julian David, CEO of techUK, said:

“As we prepare to leave the EU, we must ensure that the future immigration system reflects the needs of UK businesses and the economy. For the tech sector, which is growing at 2.6 times the rest of the economy, it is absolutely vital we have access to international talent to keep the UK at the cutting edge and create even more opportunities for the UK public.”

Kate Nicholls, CEO, UKHospitality, added:

“The hospitality sector is enormously proud of its diverse workforce, including 400,000 EU nationals complementing British talent. It’s crucial that our future immigration system must enable capacity to grow and ensure that hospitality businesses can continue to provide a world-class service to our customers, as well as economic growth and jobs to the UK.”

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said:

“The construction industry is already facing skills shortages across a number of roles, from bricklayers to site managers, and this is likely to get worse, with ambitious house building and infrastructure targets on the horizon. The Immigration White Paper, as set out currently, does not work for small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms. We therefore welcome London First’s call to improve the proposals to ensure the economy can operate at full strength. We welcome, in particular, calls to lower the salary threshold, extend the temporary visa to two years and make the sponsorship system work for SMEs.”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK said:

“Being able to work in a skilled job after graduation is, for many prospective international students, an important factor when deciding where to study. Meanwhile, recent polling highlighted that 74% of the public want to see international graduates using their skills working in the UK for a time in order to contribute to the economy, rather than returning immediately to their home country.

“An improved post-study work offer would put us on a par with what is offered in competitor countries, send a more welcoming message to international students and signal that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world.

“Assessing skills through the measure of salary alone is a blunt tool. Technicians are critical and skilful roles in supporting both high-quality teaching and innovative research at our universities, but their salaries can be well below the £30,000 mark.”

Charlotte Crosswell, CEO, Innovate Finance, added:

"Innovate Finance is pleased to support this #FullStrength campaign.  If the UK's world-leading FinTech sector is to build on its growth and success, we need to ensure we continue to attract global talent to this country. Our own figures indicate that of the 76,500 employees in UK FinTech, 42% of those originate from overseas.  This international workforce brings a diversity of thinking that is vital for innovation and the creation of new businesses, as well as developing and raising the standard of our domestic skills and talent base."

David Camp, ALP Chief Executive, said:

“Over 4 million people are employed in the UK food supply chain.  To maintain our world-leading status and drive export growth we need an immigration system that takes account of the labour market, provides access to a secure supply of motivated talent at all skill levels and is user-friendly for both employers and migrant workers alike.”

Dom Hallas, Executive Director, The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), added:

"British tech startups need to hire the best to compete with the best. With London tech dominance being challenged across Europe, the ability of the UK to draw the top tech talent post-Brexit will be key to our continued success as a tech hub. Whether it's lowering the counterproductive salary threshold or ensuring that students who earn their stripes here can stay and contribute to the tech economy, the next Government needs to look seriously at a range of measures to make it easier for startups to get the skilled workers they so desperately need."

Emma Degg, CEO, NWBLT, added:

“It is important to stress that business leaders across the UK are working hard to support local people and communities to access skilled employment and better life chances for their families. Whether through apprenticeships, work with schools, or support for retraining programmes – we are committed to improving our skills base and education. However, it is also crucial that we have the right immigration policy in place to help to secure the future of the industries we need to continue to drive our economy forward. That is why we are supporting this collaboration and urge who ever becomes Prime Minister to take note.”

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