London, United Kingdom – A move by the UK government to press ahead with its plan for a new post-Brexit points-based immigration system has been slammed by critics as “out of date” with the economic realities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
New guidance issued by the Home Office on Thursday clarifies officials’ plans – first revealed in February – for transforming the rules governing who can enter the country to work from the beginning of 2021.
The “guidance for employers” document reiterates that, under the new system, visas will be awarded to individuals on the basis of their “specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations”.
“This represents a significant change for employers in the UK, who will need to adapt,” the Home Office document says.
“The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work,” it adds.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously said the new immigration policy was aimed at attracting the “brightest and the best” to the UK.
However, under the plan, there will be no specific entry route into the country for so-called “low-skilled workers” – the likes of whom have been thrust to the front line of the coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks as delivery drivers, farm and supermarket workers, home-care assistants, hospital porters and cleaners.
The Home Office document says specific initiatives for National Health Service (NHS) workers are in the pipeline – as well as for scientists and graduates – with foreign nationals making up more than 13 percent of the NHS workforce.
But critics of the points-based scheme say it fails to account for the need for workers from abroad to fill essential jobs in an array of other sectors, and threatens to result in widespread staff shortages.
Moreover, they argue, the impact of coronavirus in revealing the critical importance of so-called “low-skilled workers” throughout the UK is reason enough for the entire plan to be scrapped.
“It is becoming more and more apparent that the immigration system as it was designed and published weeks ago is just not fit for this economy,” said Sophia Wolpers, a Brexit and immigration policy specialist at the not-for-profit business advocacy group London First.
“The coronavirus crisis has shown how many of the roles deemed to be lower-skilled are vitally important to the UK economy as a whole,” she added.
Citing the example of workers in the food processing and logistics industry, as well as the home-care sector, Wolpers said the deadly COVID-19 pandemic had put such positions’ value “into the spotlight”.
Foreign nationals currently make up about a sixth of England’s 840,000-strong care sector workforce, while some 20 percent of workers in the UK’s agriculture sector come from overseas.
“Right now they are the some of the ones working hardest to make sure we stay alive,” Wolpers said.
“So the Home Office publishing the guidelines for employers today is really putting the emphasis on how out of date their thinking is regarding what the economy really needs.”
Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, meanwhile, called for officials to rethink their plans and “review what jobs are the most important” in British society.
“It’s a good time to refresh the underlying assumptions that actually underpin a lot of the government’s plan on immigration,” Hadley said.
“It’s a blunt instrument to talk about the ‘brightest and the best’,” he added.
“From carers and cleaners to retail workers and drivers, the current crisis is showing us how much we depend on people at all skill levels.”