Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Employers fear worker shortages in new immigration plan

Published:Thursday | February 20, 2020 | 12:06 AM


Vegetables rotting in the fields, food going unprocessed, the elderly and disabled left without care.

That’s the alarming picture painted by some British employers about the impact of new UK immigration rules set to be introduced in less than a year.

Farms, food factories and care homes said Wednesday that they will face severe labour shortages under the government’s plans to open Britain to skilled and educated immigrants while shutting out those its deems “low-skilled” workers.

The message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government was blunt: “Employers will need to adjust.”

“We need 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,” the government said in a paper laying out its immigration plans.


Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) last month after 47 years of membership is triggering the biggest change to the country’s immigration rules for decades.

When Britain was part of the EU, citizens of the bloc’s 27 other countries were free to live and work in the UK, and vice versa. EU workers came to Britain by the hundreds of thousands.

More than three million EU citizens currently live in the UK. They are all entitled to stay. But once a post-Brexit transition period runs out on December 31, that free movement will end and the new UK immigration rules will apply to EU and non-EU citizens alike.

Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the EU was driven in part by a belief that large-scale immigration had pushed down wages and increased joblessness among Britain-born workers.

Many economists say there is little evidence that’s true. The UK already has low unemployment, and immigrants create jobs as well as fill them. Nevertheless, “taking back control” of immigration was a key promise made by Johnson and other proponents of Brexit — one the government can now claim to have delivered.

“The real message that is being sent to the electorate in the UK is: ‘We have control,’” said Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.


Starting next year, most people hoping to move long term to Britain will need to speak English to a “required level” — the level of fluency is not specified — and have the offer of a job paying at least £25,600 (US$33,000) a year. Prospective immigrants who earn less may still be able to come if they have other skills or work in an area where there are shortages, such as healthcare.

The new rules don’t cover refugees or asylum-seekers, and there will be separate routes for students and highly talented scientists, artists and athletes. But there will be no system of visas for ‘low-skilled workers’ or most self-employed people.