Without analysis on relationship between trade & immigration, and on how to address impact on key sectors like social care, Parliament & Govt still doesn’t have the info it needs to inform the negotiations & future plans
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UK should prioritise skilled EU workers after Brexit
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain should not give preferential treatment to European Union workers in its post-Brexit immigration system but should prioritise the higher-skilled, a report commissioned by the British government said on Tuesday.
However, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent body which gives the government advice, also said Britain may be able to offer preferential access for EU citizens in return for other benefits in Brexit talks such as trade.
With just over six months to go until exit day, Britain has yet to agree its divorce or future ties with the bloc, and businesses are increasingly concerned that the country’s future immigration strategy will shut the door on much-needed workers.
“If … immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens,” the committee said in a report.
However, the Migration Advisory Committee does not rule out offering EEA workers preferential treatment as part of the Brexit negotiations.
It also recommends scrapping limits on higher-skilled migrants to the UK.
The government has said it will “carefully consider” the proposals.
Labour has backed it, calling for an “end to discrimination” against non-EU migrants.
The EEA consists of all EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
It is thought the government will use the report to shape its post-Brexit immigration policy.
What does the report say?
The report says there is no evidence that increased European migration has damaged life in the UK.
It concludes that EU migrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefits, contribute more to the NHS workforce than the healthcare they access, and have no effect on crime rates.
MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning said the overall the impacts of EEA (European Economic Area) migration had not had the “big costs that some people claim”, but it had not had “big benefits” either.
The report says the impact of all EEA migration to the UK since 2004 was almost certainly less than that of the fall in the value of the pound following the referendum vote, which probably raised prices by 1.7%.
Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of offering special access for workers as part of negotiations to secure a trade deal with the EU after the UK leaves in March 2019.
But leaving this possibility aside, the committee says it sees no “compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules” for workers from the EEA.
“A migrant’s impact depends on factors such as their skills, employment, age and use of public services, and not fundamentally on their nationality,” it says.
‘Less heat, more reflection’
The Migration Advisory Committee’s report is a massive piece of work and the caveats and cautions that it places around its findings show how fiendishly complicated the topic is.
While it says that EEA migrants put more into the economy than they take out, this masks considerable variations.
And the fall in the value of the pound since Brexit has had a greater overall effect on the wealth of the nation.
The MAC finds a link between rising migration and house prices, but then stresses that affordability is also linked to other government policies and planning woes in some areas.
So the sub-text of the report is that when it comes to migration, there needs to be less heat and more sober reflection.
It mostly brings benefits, says the MAC, but there are also consequences.
And the government needs to get better at understanding these, as it devises a post-Brexit immigration system.
Why is the report important?
The MAC was asked to do the research in July 2017 by then Home Secretary Amber Rudd and is widely expected to shape the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said Mrs May might start “sketching out” her plans for this at October’s Conservative Party conference.
He added that the report would increase pressure on her to not compromise on freedom of movement during the Brexit negotiations.
The report makes a number of proposals after analysing the impact of migration from the EEA, taking evidence from more than 400 businesses, industry bodies and government departments.
It recommended “a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers”, adding: “Higher-skilled workers tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances.”
Who are the highly skilled workers?
They are granted a Tier 2 visa to work in the country.
Top priority is given to jobs on a “shortage occupation list” which can be found here.
- Mining engineers
- 3D computer animators
- Games designers
- Cyber security experts
- Emergency medicine consultants
- Paediatric consultants
Who is affected?
The committee says it was “not convinced there needs to be a work route for low-skilled workers” from the EU to fill jobs in industries such as catering or hospitality.
It says some sectors will “complain vociferously”, but it believes the number of existing low-skilled migrants will not change immediately.
The “possible exception” to this rule could be for seasonal agriculture, where 99% of the workers come from EU countries.
What’s the reaction been?
The government says it will listen to the report and put in an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The government is clear that EU citizens play an important and positive role in our economy and society and we want that to continue after we leave.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the UK’s immigration policy “needs to be based on our economic needs, while meeting our legal obligations and treating people fairly”.
“[This] means ending the discrimination against non-EU migrants, especially from the Commonwealth,” she added.
The report was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing, which said: “The UK has long depended on nursing professionals from around the world and any future cap on their numbers would leave health and social care services unable to recruit the nurses they need.”
But Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the report was “puzzling” with “significant gaps” between the MAC’s research and recommendations.
“The MAC admit they have ignored the crucial relationship between immigration and trade,” she said.
And London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was a “missed opportunity” to protect the UK from the government’s “mishandled approach to Brexit” and the “economically illiterate migration target”, warning that British businesses will pay the price “if the government fails to protect their access to a European workforce”.
The Scottish government’s migration minister, Ben Macpherson, said the report had done “little to consider Scotland’s needs” and “fails to address” Scottish employers’ concerns – especially in the tourism and agriculture sectors- about access to workforce.
‘An end to low-skilled migration’
Meanwhile, Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said if the recommendations were adopted, it would signal “the biggest change to the UK labour market in a generation” and would represent a “huge shift” for sectors such as hotels and food manufacturing.
He said: “If enacted, these proposals would effectively end low-skilled migration, while prioritising mid- and high-skill migration in areas where we have labour shortages.
Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the report was “blind to the impact” of EU migration to a number of communities.
He said the proposals would “permit continued high levels of immigration” and “the overall outcome would be to weaken immigration control”.
The report comes as figures for 2017, showed that net migration from the EU was at its lowest level since 2012 – with overall net migration at 282,000.
The government wants to cut overall net migration to the tens of thousands.