The Trade Agreement announced on Christmas Eve has at last given us the very welcome opportunity to take back control of our laws, our trade, and our future. The government is to be warmly congratulated. Sadly, however, immigration has still not been effectively tackled. What is the point of taking back control if we make no effective use of it to tackle this long standing public concern?
The new “points-based” immigration system comes into operation on January 1 but it will not reduce net migration. Indeed, it is far more likely to increase it substantially. What is certain is that it is by far the greatest shake up of the system for half a century with implications for the scale and nature of immigration which are huge. Despite this there has been virtually no Parliamentary scrutiny and, thanks largely to Covid and Brexit, very little public discussion.
Certainly, most of the public will be unaware that the new arrangements for recruiting immigrant workers represent a total surrender to every demand that employers could think of. The ‘consultation’ groups set up by the Home Office were dominated by business interests and their advisory committee is largely comprised of economists. The outcome was a scheme providing a bonanza for business at the expense of their workers. Although it was published before Covid struck, no adjustments whatsoever have been made to take account of the massive deterioration in the UK labour market that has resulted.
The Government claim that their “simple, effective and flexible system will ensure that employers can recruit the skilled workers they need, while also encouraging employers to train and invest in the UK’s workforce.” It is impossible to see how the second half of this claim can be achieved.
The list of concessions is truly extraordinary. Here is a summary of the seven main changes:
- There is to be no cap whatever on the number of foreign workers that employers can bring in to the UK. The previous cap has been removed and the government have not retained a ready means of re-imposing it.
- The skill levels required have been reduced substantially from degree level to A level. Curiously, they are to apply to the job not the applicant thus providing considerable scope for abuse.
- The basic salary requirement has been greatly reduced from £30,000 to only £25,600.
- An even lower salary of £20,480 is to suffice for anyone under the age of 26 on arrival. This is not much more than the National Living Wage and is bound to add to the competition faced by young British workers seeking promotion.
- The requirement to first advertise jobs within the UK has simply been abandoned despite widespread public support for keeping this provision in place, including 78 per cent of those in “Red Wall” seats. (Deltapoll, May 2020).
- The salary requirement for settlement has been reduced by a massive £10,200 a year to £25,600. So foreign workers will find it easier to stay on, thus relieving employers from the need to train British replacements
- All students will be able to stay on for an extra two years after they finish studying so as to work in the UK, even if that is no more than stacking shelves.
The impact of these changes is that some seven million jobs in the UK will be opened to new or increased competition by migrant workers at a lower threshold for both wages and qualifications. It is not hard to imagine that employers who have lost considerable sums over the past year will be tempted to employ cheaper labour from overseas. Others who see them gaining a competitive advantage will be sorely tempted to follow suit. This is what happened when our labour market was opened to workers from eight Eastern European members of the EU in 2004. Ten years later there was a similar outcome when Romanians and Bulgarians became able to come freely to work in the UK
All this is to say nothing of the government’s decision to allow up to three million British Nationals (Overseas) to move from Hong Kong to Britain for work or settlement whenever they choose.
This outcome is the very opposite of “taking back control” of immigration. It is a betrayal of all those who are concerned about the sheer scale of immigration – that is 55 per cent of the population or 30 million adults. It is also a particular betrayal of many working class voters, especially in the “red wall” constituencies. A Deltapoll in these seats conducted over the summer found that 72 per cent of respondents supported strict controls on immigration (including 83 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters). So if the Government lose these constituencies on which their power is based, they will certainly have deserved it.