Government warned new immigration rules could ‘spell absolute disaster for the care sector’

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.

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 (pictured) 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.

Key points of Government’s plans for points-based immigration system

The Government has set out its plans for a points-based immigration system to come into force on January 1 2021.

A policy statement published on Wednesday said free movement would end, laws surrounding this would be repealed and a new Immigration Bill would be introduced for a “firm and fair” system which would “attract the high-skilled workers” to create a “high wage, high skill, high productivity economy”.

It vowed to prioritise someone on their skills not where they came from, adding: “For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people.

“Our approach will change all of this.”

The paper set out the first phase of changes.

Skilled workers:

All applicants – both EU and non-EU citizens – 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 if they can demonstrate they:

  • Have a job offer from an approved sponsor, such as an employer cleared by the Home Office (which earns 20 points).
  • Have a job offer that is at a “required skill level” (20 points).
  • They can speak English to a certain level (10 points).

Other points could be awarded for certain qualifications and if there is a shortage in a particular occupation.

The salary threshold for skilled migrants will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600 for those coming to the UK with a job offer.

But migrants “will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’, and the general salary threshold”, the paper said.

If an applicant earns less than the required minimum salary threshold – but no less than £20,480 – they may still be able to come to the UK if they have a job offer in a specific occupation which appears on the Government’s jobs shortage list, or if they have a PhD relevant to the job.

This could mean lower earners such as nurses may still be able to apply for a visa, provided a shortage of staff in this area remain on the approved list.

The cap on the number of people who can come through the skilled worker route has been scrapped.

There are no plans to introduce regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.

Highly-skilled workers:

This would allow a some of the most highly-skilled workers, who can gain the required level of points, to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a “relevant and competent body”.

This will include science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals.

There will also be an “unsponsored” visa option where points will also be awarded for factors such as academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience for a small number of highly-skilled workers without a job offer. The route would be capped to begin with.

Low-skilled workers:

There will be no temporary or general visa options for low-skilled migrant workers.

The paper said: “UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement, and we will not seek to recreate the outcomes from free movement within the points-based system.

“As such, it is important that employers move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, and wider investment in technology and automation.”

It is estimated 70% of the existing EU workforce would not meet the requirements of the skilled worker route, which will help to bring overall numbers down in future, according the Home Office.

It is thought there are around 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK and most are said to be unskilled or low-skilled workers.

Last week it was reported the new system could cut the number of low-skilled migrant workers from European Union countries by up to 90,000 a year.

The policy document mentioned the immigration system would “reduce overall migration numbers”.

But the Home Office has been unable to provide more detail on how this would be achieved and if a target number had been set.

A pilot scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture will be quadrupled from 2,500 to 10,000 places.

Youth mobility arrangements with eight countries that result in around 20,000 young people coming to the UK each year will continue.

“Both routes will provide employers with further ongoing flexibility in employing individuals into lower-skilled roles”, the paper said, but added: “We expect employers to take other measures to address shortages.”

Students:

They will need to demonstrate:

  • They have an offer from an approved educational institution.
  • Can speak English.
  • Can support themselves during their studies in the UK.

Other routes:

  • Current arrangements for specialist occupations such as religious ministers, artists, musicians and entertainers are expected to broadly remain the same and be extended for EU citizens.
  • Self-employed and freelance workers can continue to apply for visas under existing rules and will not need to be sponsored.
  • Visitors, including EU citizens, will be able to come to the UK without a visa for six months but will not be allowed to work.
  • Asylum applications fall outside the points-based system and are expected to operate under existing rules.

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