Businesses from across the land-based, manufacturing, logistics and recruitment sectors took full advantage of an opportunity yesterday (3 July) to quiz senior Home Office officials about the Government’s proposed approach to immigration once the UK leaves the European Union.
Over twenty businesspeople met with members of the Home Office EU Exit Immigration Strategy team to raise questions about both current ways of hiring non-UK workers and about proposals in the Immigration White Paper.
The discussion touched on the current EU Settlement Scheme which was felt to have been largely effective in making it as easy as possible for European Economic Area citizens and their families living in the UK to apply to guarantee their residency and other rights once the country had left the European Union.
The businesses present were concerned, however, about a number of provisions in the White Paper which they felt would do nothing to address growing staff and skills shortages being experienced in some sectors.
Particular concern was raised about the proposed Temporary Worker route allowing workers from a number of specific countries to remain in the UK for up to 12 months after Brexit.
Many at the meeting felt this would be likely to disincentivise people from coming to work in key sectors such as agriculture and horticulture.
The attendees also provided feedback on other aspects of the White Paper, including those relating skilled workers, business visitors, students and sponsorship.
Andy Walker, Suffolk Chamber’s head of policy and research said: “The general consensus was that the plans to simplify the way in which overseas citizens can access the UK is a welcome step forward, as was the pivot to removing many administrative burdens currently imposed on companies operating within the law.
“But for many this was more than offset by the fact that the UK is already losing out to other countries such as Germany in attracting key workers to vital sectors. The White Paper, as currently drafted, could inadvertently make these labour shortages worse.”
“In particular, many businesses understand the need to rework the immigration system and to have a more straightforward approach which encompasses all nationalities, clarity is needed on the employment status for low-skilled workers. Vocational skills such as truck driving don’t require qualifications yet under the new immigration system, workers will be able to come here as long as they hold an A-level or equivalent qualification.”
Suffolk Chamber of Commerce will be formally writing to the Home Office outlining the main areas of concern raised at the meeting and will be working through its national organisation, the British Chamber of Commerce, to lobby for changes before the white Paper is considered by MPs in early 2020