DUP pleads with UK to reduce salary threshold for migrant workers coming to North

Sinn Féin says British move to close borders ‘a direct threat to North’s economic viability’

Jeffrey Donaldson: key ask would be “that we get some form of regional variation on the salary threshold to recognise the high dependence of Northern Ireland on the agri-food sector”. File photograph: Pacemaker

Jeffrey Donaldson: key ask would be “that we get some form of regional variation on the salary threshold to recognise the high dependence of Northern Ireland on the agri-food sector”. File photograph: Pacemaker

 

The DUP is to ask the British government to reduce the salary threshold for skilled migrant workers who want to come to Northern Ireland.

Under the new, points-based immigration system which was unveiled by Britain on Wednesday, skilled migrants with a job offer must meet a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 (€30,600).

The Lagan Valley MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said that a “key ask” would be “that we get some form of regional variation on the salary threshold to recognise the high dependence of Northern Ireland on the agri-food sector”.

This lower threshold, he suggested, could be around £22,000 (€26,300).

He also said Northern Ireland’s border with the EU “should be taken into account in considering the need for regional variations”.

The point-based immigration system will come into effect on January 1st, 2021.

It bars entry to the UK for unskilled workers, and stipulates that skilled workers must be in receipt of a job offer from an approved employer sponsor which meets a minimum general salary threshold of £25,600. They must also be able to speak English.

Irish citizens will continue to be able to live and work in the UK as they do now.

Sinn Féin said the proposals were “unpopular, unworkable and a direct threat to the north’s economic viability”.

The South Down MP, Chris Hazzard, said that “far from strengthening the economic wellbeing of our society, these proposals are a direct threat to local industry - including our local hospitality, tourism, retail, and agri-food sectors.

“It is hard not to view these proposals as an elitist, xenophobic attack on overseas and low-paid workers - the vast majority of whom we simply can not live without.

“Sinn Féin will be raising these concerns directly with the British Government in the weeks to come.”

The Alliance Party’s deputy leader Stephen Farry MP said his party would pursue “a two-track approach of objecting to the forthcoming legislation in its entirety, while seeking special mitigation for Northern Ireland”.

“These proposals are a particular threat for Northern Ireland. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work. The salary thresholds will bring challenges for key sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism, agri-food, and social care,” he said.

In Derry, the Foyle MP and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, said the new rules represented a “fundamental threat to the North’s economy and the effective provision of public services.

“The salary threshold ignores the reality of regional median salaries across key industries including retail, agriculture and hospitality. This isn’t about cheap labour, it’s about recognising and meeting the needs of our unique and distinct economic circumstances,” Mr Eastwood said.

“This is a policy position based on the Europhobic approach of the British Government to Brexit. The rush to exorcise economies of anything resembling a European influence, regardless of the impact it has on people, communities and businesses is a disgrace.

“The SDLP will be working with parties at Westminster and in the Assembly to resist these moves.”

Earlier it emerged that Britain is to close its borders to unskilled workers and those who cannot speak English as part of a fundamental overhaul of immigration laws that will end the era of cheap EU labour in factories, warehouses, hotels and restaurants.

Unveiling its Australian-style points system on Wednesday, the British government will say it is grasping a unique opportunity to take “full control” of British borders “for the first time in decades” and eliminate the “distortion” caused by EU freedom of movement.

The British government has set out its plans for a points-based immigration system to come into force on January 1st, 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”.

The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster has warned that the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland faces a “crippling blow” if new immigration laws are introduced by the British Home Office.

Colin Neill told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that Northern Ireland did not have enough people to work in the sector. He said the number of EU nationals working in the North is declining, with one restaurant deferring its opening because it cannot find staff.

“We are looking to double the number of jobs in the sector to 25,000, but we just won’t have the people to fill them.”

Changes set out in first phase

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:

  • 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 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 per cent 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.”

Studentswill 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. – Additional reporting from PA/Guardian