New immigration curbs on low-skilled workers could cause huge damage to Britain’s economy, the Government has been warned.
The head of the Confederation of British Industry says she is ‘very concerned’ by post-Brexit plans to restrict immigration visas for workers earning less than £30,000.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s Director-General, says the plans risk causing a shortage of workers in key sectors such as the care industry.
She said the new system would inflict untold damage on communities, as the salary restriction covers workers in many vital areas that drive the UK economy.
Prime Minister Theresa May insists that firms should train British people to fill the jobs and wants all migrants to get equal treatment after Brexit.
This would mean EU workers would no longer take priority, although the details of the scheme have still not been published by the Home Office.
Fairbairn said her members were ‘very concerned’ that migrants earning less than £30,000 annually could find it more difficult to enter the UK.
She said the idea that anyone earning less than £30,000 would be classed as low-skilled is a ‘damaging perspective’ for the Government to have.
“People earning less than £30,000 make a hugely valuable contribution to our economy and society, from lab technicians to people in the food industry.
She said many universities have staff on less than £30,000 and urged the government to ‘work with us’.
“Our economy is hugely reliant in absolutely critical sectors on people who are so-called low-skilled, such as our care sector. We also have a nursing shortage.
Fairbairn said it was ‘reasonable’ to aim for a cut in immigration, but the Government has not grasped the damage it could cause if it is done too quickly.
“At the very least, we need to recognise there needs to be a transition period that needs to be reasonably long. Businesses can adapt, but they can’t do that overnight.
“If we procure a system like this quickly, and the talk is that we would bring it in very quickly after the end of the Brexit transition period, we would hugely damage our economy.
“Jobs will be lost, communities will be damaged. There is a strong alarm bell from business on this.”
May is pressing on with her plans after the independent Migration Advisory Committee backed her curbs on low-skilled workers coming to the UK.
But Chancellor Philip Hammond and other ministers are thought to share the CBI’s concern and favour a longer period for controls to be introduced.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid was due to reveal the Government’s full proposals ahead of next week’s crucial vote on Mrs May’s Brexit agreement with the EU.
But it now appears unlikely that will happen until after the vote, sparking protests from MPs on all sides.
A Home Office spokesman said the post-Brexit focus would be the skills and talents of immigrants after free movement ended.