Industry bodies representing hundreds of thousands of businesses across the whole UK economy have written to home secretary Priti Patel to call for a deep cut in the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold for migrant workers after Brexit.
The organisations – including the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, Institute of Directors and Make UK – urged Ms Patel to ensure that new immigration rules do not deny them “access to the labour and skills needed to support the economy”.
A threshold of £20,100 – coupled with a requirement that earnings are higher than 25 per cent of people doing the same job – would be high enough to protect wages of home-grown workers from being undercut by cheap foreign labour, while not worsening staff shortages in professions like technicians, carpenters, translators and care-home managers, they suggested.
The signatories also appealed for flexibility to recruit workers below any salary threshold on the basis of their skills, an extension from one to two years in temporary working visas and a “radically reformed” sponsorship process to reduce the cost and complexity of hiring from overseas.
The letter comes days ahead of the publication of the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the £30,000 threshold initially proposed under Theresa May, amid signals from ministers that they are ready to drop it from the new post-Brexit immigration system.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that he will introduce an Australian-style points system, based on applicants’ skills and qualifications and the UK’s labour shortages.
Offering their help in designing such a system, the business organisations welcomed indications that the salary threshold could be reduced and net migration targets scrapped, arguing that these have sent “positive and important signals around the world that the UK is open for business”.
The letter said that business recognises the immigration system must change “in order to rebuild public confidence”.
But it added: “Insight from enterprise can help build a points-based model that provides greater control, whilst providing access to the labour and skills needed to support the economy. And this can go hand in hand with a continued determination to invest in training home grown talent.”
The current threshold for non-EU workers, which requires a salary higher than 25 per cent of people in the same occupation and 25 per cent of those with the same skill level, has achieved the goal of providing confidence that migrants are not accepting wages lower than those of UK workers, said the letter.
This “tried and tested formula” would produce a £20,100 minimum which would protect businesses’ access to the staff they need.
And a two-year temporary visa would free businesses of the need constantly to hire new people, particularly if staff were able to switch to skilled worker visas while they are in the UK.
The letter said: “The economy needs a simple, streamlined and affordable system that meets business needs of all sizes, sectors and across all UK regions and nations.
“We look forward to working with the new government to inform the detailed design of a new immigration system in a way that commands public confidence and supports the UK’s global ambitions.”