The 10-page plan issued by the Home Office on 19 February highlights a "points-based" system that would make it significantly more difficult for non-skilled workers to secure UK work visas from next year. The plan also establishes a £25,600 salary threshold for EU workers entering the country with a job offer, though a “floor” of £20,480 was also identified in exceptional cases of labour shortage, such as in nursing.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the policies will mean UK businesses have to train up UK workers, tapping into what she identified as 8 million “economically inactive” citizens between the ages of 16 and 64.
BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold noted that the government had reduced its salary threshold from the originally planned £30,000 at initial consultations, but said the drop did not go far enough to help the print sector.
He said: “The sector felt the original threshold was way too high and would give many companies acute skills shortage problems. While the government have listened, and reduced the threshold, this is a “split the difference” approach, and is higher than the salary for many skilled and semi-skilled roles in our sector.
“To that extent, it will increase labour costs to companies, and may force companies to decrease reliance on fewer well-paid workers in their businesses. This may happen through ceasing activities, investment to “automate out” the requirement, or increased prices to cover increased costs, as the option to hire lower skilled workers from Europe has been significantly reduced.”
Jarrold concluded: “Either way there will be a period of adaption, and short term challenges, which is undesirable with margins already under pressure.”
His reservations were echoed and emphasised by various immigration and employment experts in the UK, including Shakespeare Martineau business immigration specialist Tijen Ahmet, who blasted the proposals’ “broken promises and lack of detail”.
“Businesses have long been lobbying against closing the door to low skilled workers. However, sectors such as construction, hospitality, manufacturing and social care that rely heavily on low skilled workers that historically have been sourced from the EU, will now face major labour challenges,” she said.
“Organisations must now be acutely focused on planning what action they can take to face the shortage of low skilled labour from 2021, whether that is upskilling local talent and investing in staff retention or reshaping their recruitment focus altogether.”
DMH Stallard partner Adam Williams concurred, indicating that “the clock may now be ticking to recruit and retain EU labour from abroad to meet current and future demand for people to fill lower skilled/lower roles before the end of the year” when the 11-month transition period ends.