Brexit: ‘Very real risk’ Northern firms will move to Republic

North’s economy department warns on restrictive immigration regime

The North’s Department for the  Economy has highlighted the “disproportionate impact that restricting the flow of migrant labour from the European Economic Area would have on the Northern Ireland economy”. Photograph: iStock

The North’s Department for the Economy has highlighted the “disproportionate impact that restricting the flow of migrant labour from the European Economic Area would have on the Northern Ireland economy”. Photograph: iStock

 

There is a “very real risk” that businesses in the North will “relocate across the Border” to the Republic to access workers with the skills they need if the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system is too restrictive, the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy has warned.

The department has said migrant workers are of “profound importance” to the economy and has urged the UK government to consider the “unique position” of the North especially in relation to the land border in the “context of immigration”.

Last year the UK government published an Immigration White Paper which proposed a “single skills based system”. This would see anybody who wanted to work and live in the UK needing permission to do so possibly in the form of an “electronic status”.

Other proposals included a “time-limited” option for temporary short-term workers to allow people to go to the UK for a maximum of 12 months. It also foresaw migrant workers being required to earn a minimum salary of £30,000 (€34,787).

In response to the White Paper the North’s Department for the Economy has submitted evidence to the UK Home Office highlighting the “disproportionate impact that restricting the flow of migrant labour from the European Economic Area would have on the Northern Ireland economy”.

The department said this was mainly due to the heavy reliance that key sectors including agrifood, social care, manufacturing and hospitality have on migrant labour in the North.

Lowest salary

It also noted that full-time workers in the North receive the lowest median private sector salary – £24,000 – compared to other areas in the UK.

“This disparity would immediately put Northern Ireland at significant disadvantage compared to all other UK regions when seeking to attract migrant workers in the context of the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold,” the Department for the Economy stated.

According to the department, migration has been the “key” to the North’s economic recovery since the crash. It has noted however that numbers of EU migrants have “dropped significantly” and businesses are warning that the UK’s proposed post-Brexit immigration system “will not meet the needs of the Northern Ireland economy”.

“Northern Ireland has unique issues and risks arising from the land border including competition within the all-island economy and the potential for businesses to relocate in the Republic of Ireland to retain access to EU skills and labour through the freedom of movement of people,” the department warned.