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New immigration system threatens the food sector

The UK government has announced that it is ending free movement now that we have left the EU and will introduce an Immigration Bill to bring in a firm and fair points-based system aimed at attracting high-skilled workers. The desired outcome is a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy. It claims that for too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people.

It will implement a new system that will transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family, and from 1 January 2021 EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally. Top priority will be given to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly skilled workers.

Most critically, it has stated that the government will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. The plan is to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Chillingly, the government’s statement simply states “Employers will need to adjust”.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality has in response said:

“Ruling out a temporary, low-skilled route for migration in just 10 months’ time will be disastrous for the hospitality sector and the British people. Business must be given time to adapt.

These proposals will cut off future growth and expansion and deter investment in Britain’s high streets. It will lead to reduced levels of service for customers and business closures. Hospitality is already facing an acute labour shortage, despite investing significantly in skills, training and increasing apprenticeships for the domestic workforce. We are facing record low levels of unemployment, a dip in young people entering the labour market and have the highest vacancy levels of any sector.

This announcement fails to recognise that hospitality is at the heart of every community in the UK. Damaging the hospitality sector will have a knock-on effect for schoolchildren and the elderly who rely on the sector for their meals. The Government says it is making allowances for staff in the NHS, but it has totally ignored the catering companies who supply the meals to patients and staff.

We understand the Government’s desire to deliver on the referendum result and its aim of moving to a skills-based immigration system. We fully support the ambition to upskill the domestic population and provide opportunities for people in every part of the UK. These proposals fail to deliver on the Government’s own objective of providing an immigration system which works for the UK’s economy and its people.”

The whole food sector in the UK currently relies heavily on both temporary and low-skilled labour. From fruit-pickers to factory workers, from warehouse staff to drivers, and service staff in retail and dining, every step has its needs. The government has now been dragged into a major health crisis whilst still distracted by a huge trade agenda with equally short timeframes. Let us hope that it remains sensitive enough to keep its deadlines for change under review.

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