How will post-Brexit immigration proposals affect East Anglia's farming workforce?
PUBLISHED: 17:01 19 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:53 20 December 2018
Setting an "arbitrary" minimum salary threshold for migrant workers after Brexit could put agriculture and food jobs at risk, warned a senior East Anglian farmer.
The warning followed the long-awaited publication of a White Paper setting out what home secretary Sajid Javid described as the “biggest change to our immigration system in a generation” after Britain leaves the EU and its principle of free movement of workers.
It includes transitional measures to allow low-skilled migrants to continue working in the UK on one-year permits until at least 2025, but also a consultation on a proposed minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas.
Tim Breitmeyer, who farms in Cambridgeshire and is national president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said a “secure and sufficient supply of migrant labour” will be vital to rural businesses after Brexit, and highly-skilled EU workers are major contributors to the rural economy.
“However, imposing an arbitrary minimum salary threshold puts at risk a variety of jobs across the agri-food sector, including some which require specialist skills. These are vital roles which are critical to the success of the rural economy but have traditionally not attracted interest from UK nationals seeking work.
“Restricting this critical supply of labour will jeopardise the future viability of many rural businesses. What is needed post-Brexit is a flexible immigration policy that ensures the rural economy continues to have access to the skills and labour force it needs.”
The policy document also proposes to introduce a “transitional” route for short-term workers, which could allow tens of thousands of migrants to enter the UK to work for up to a year.
The new measure, which would be in place until at least 2025, is designed to act as a “safety valve” for the economy and protect sectors reliant on lower-skilled overseas labour – such as agriculture and horticulture.
It would be open to nationals from specified countries, regardless of their skill level or whether they have a definite job offer.
Applicants would need to apply for a visa which would be limited to 12 months, at which point a “cooling-off” period will take effect, meaning they could not return under the same route for the next year.
While in the UK, they would not be entitled to access public funds or switch to other routes, bring dependant family members or seek permanent settlement.
FARMING UNION RESPONSE
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said she was concerned that the proposals, particularly the emphasis on high-skilled workers, will “exacerbate a situation with farm businesses already struggling to recruit and retain staff”.
“Rather than focusing on the level of skill, government should consider the specific skills sets that are needed for each industry to thrive,” she said. “In the case of farming, this means continuing to produce safe, secure and affordable British food for the public.
“The proposed 12 month visa system for ‘low skilled’ workers would also be highly disruptive to many businesses. As currently proposed, it would cause massive problems for businesses which employ non-UK workers on a permanent basis and we urge government to recognise the need for continued access to this workforce.
“Any changes to the immigration system will have a big impact on businesses that rely on workers from overseas, so it is vital that a sufficient transition period is put in place to enable food producing businesses around Britain to adapt to these changes. We await clarification as to the length of this transition period.”