The Government's White Paper on post-Brexit immigration will not reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands, even if that is a sensible policy aim. Who says so? Former Theresa May confidante Nick Timothy. Timothy says*:
- Despite the headline promise of a skills-based system, there are several gaping holes in the white paper that will allow low-skilled immigration to Britain to continue, and cause an unlimited volume of supposedly skilled migration.
- The cap on skilled migration will be removed. Rules requiring employers to advertise jobs in Britain before recruiting migrants will disappear. The need for employers to obtain a “sponsor licence” will be dropped. Subject to a salary threshold, any worker classed as skilled – from anywhere in the world – will be entitled to compete with British workers for the same job.
- What constitutes skilled work is changing. Work permits will be made available for medium-skilled as well as high-skilled workers. The qualifications required to prove skilled worker status include A-levels and NVQs. Migrants will be free to apply for 142 additional occupations, including hairdressers, newsagents, bricklayers, gardeners and fitness instructors. All in all, this is the equivalent of five million jobs, a third of Britain’s entire full-time workforce
Timothy argues that the white paper "risks taking us back to the bad old days under Labour". Then, almost one third of supposedly “highly-skilled” migrants were working as shop assistants, security guards, supermarket cashiers and care assistants.
Yes, there is a salary cap of £30k but the white paper says the Government will “allow migration at lower salary levels” for some jobs and sectors. It promises that foreign students should, upon graduation, be “subject to a lower salary threshold”, regardless of the quality of their degree. And ministers are arguing that the salary threshold should be lower than £30,000. As a result, although the Migration Advisory Committee recommendations were made following an extensive consultation with business, there will now be another consultation with employers. Their interest is obvious: many labour market studies show higher immigration can reduce wages for people in certain jobs.
Timothy's summary is that the white paper proposes lifting the cap on skilled migration, expands the definition of skilled work, and makes British workers compete for millions more jobs. It acknowledges that unskilled immigration will continue anyway through family visas, the asylum system and labour mobility schemes. And it confirms that we have more than 1.5 million low-skilled migrant workers already in Britain. It also proposes new short-term visas for low skilled workers, lasting for less than 12 months and so outside the immigration statistics.
So the White Paper is highly likely to fail in its supposed aims. Timothy also sees it as a missed opportunity:
"Aligned with industrial strategy, it could have prioritised the sectors and skills our economy needs. Aligned with an ambitious cities strategy, it could have done more to make regional cities more dynamic. Aligned with the Brexit negotiations, it could have offered preferential treatment for European workers in return for better access to the single market. And it could have brought control to our immigration system. Instead, it is a missed opportunity that risks bringing about the very opposite of what ministers promise."
I am a supporter of an Australian points-based system for immigration, focussed on getting the skills and numbers we need while ensuring that we develop British people to meet as many of the needs as possible, rather than just turning to immigration to fill all the needs on a short-term basis. I am deeply sceptical that a salary cap is the way to go as the implication is that higher earners can come in regardless. I don't think this is right from the point of view of developing our own people, though I accept that, in key industries, we need the skills when we need them to for businesses to develop.
I had thought Sajid Javid showed promise. But this all sounds like another fine mess in the making.
However, the important thing about all this is that, after Brexit we can have a comprehensive immigration policy. If the one adopted isn't fit for purpose we can change it. I would still rather it was up to us.
* Nick Timothy's article The Government's grand post-Brexit immigration plan is likely to see numbers rise was in the Telegraph on 19 December