Brexit documents leak causes alarm in food industry as "low skill" label is warned against

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 6 Sep 2017

Leaked Brexit documents setting out proposals for low-skilled migrants have sparked alarm in the food industry.

The Government has been accused of failing to recognise the benefits of EU migrant workers to industry in the UK.

But speaking today, Cabinet Minister Sir Michael Fallon said Britain will not shut the door to European Union immigrants after Brexit but the Government wants people "with high skills" and better jobs for domestic workers.

Leaked proposals to force a post-Brexit cut in low-skilled migrants from Europe have ignited a political row on the eve of a Commons battle over EU withdrawal.

Sir Michael insisted the Home Office document does not represent the Government's final position but appeared to back its overall strategy and stressed that voters want a reduction in immigration.

The Defence Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "I can't set out the proposals yet, they have not yet been finalised, they are being worked on at the moment.

"There is obviously a balance to be struck, we don't want to shut the door, of course not.

"We have always welcomed to this country those who can make a contribution to our economy, to our society, people with high skills.

"On the other hand we want British companies to do more to train up British workers, to do more to improve skills of those who leave our colleges. So there's always a balance to be struck.

"We're not closing the door on all future immigration but it has to be managed properly and people do expect to see the numbers coming down."

As previously reported the seafood cluster is made up of 33 per cent Eastern European workforce, underlining a gulf any radical measures could bring. Farming also relies on both seasonal and permanent migrant workforces.

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said: "Food and drink manufacturing, Britain's largest manufacturing sector, will be alarmed by the proposals contained in the document published by The Guardian.

"If this does represent the Government's thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make - at all skill levels - across the food chain."

He added that the proposals also undermine the role of the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which advises the Government on migration issues.

It comes as classifying the many jobs that are heavily reliant on European Union workers as "low-skilled" is patronising, discourages Britons from applying for them, and could make them difficult to fill after Brexit, MPs and peers have warned.

The all party parliamentary group (APPG) on migration said treating such roles as low-skilled makes it "almost impossible" to fill them with workers from outside the EU under the existing points-based immigration system.

They said the label also discourages British workers from the jobs as it creates a "negative image", and therefore such roles could be hard to fill after the free movement of EU workers ends and similar immigration rules apply across the board.

The parliamentarians urged the Government to ditch the "low-skilled" label, review the barriers to UK workers taking up such jobs, and push apprenticeships to up-skill the domestic workforce.

Ministers should also consider expanding the shortage occupation list, which creates exemptions from immigration rules in industries struggling to fill jobs, and consider operating different visa schemes for different sectors.

Co-chair of the APPG and Labour MP Kate Green said: "Doing down valuable SME work by labelling it 'low-skilled' is patronising, out of touch and outdated. It risks cutting us off from overseas talent and discourages British workers from applying for crucial jobs that require skill and talent.

"The Government should ditch the label. We need a new approach, one which recognises the value these jobs bring to Britain and the new context we'll be operating in after we leave the EU."

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Teverson, who also co-chairs the APPG, said: "The Government should listen to the voice of British businesses. SMEs make up 60 per cent of all private sector employment in the UK. They are the powerhouse of the British economy.

"After we leave the EU, we need an immigration system that provides them with the talent they need to continue to thrive. That's no small task but upskilling British workers and making sure we have access to overseas talent will be a good start."

The leak: 

The most eye-catching proposals in the draft blueprint are new curbs on EU migrant labour, in particular those coming to take up low-skilled jobs.

The document, which makes clear that the rules are not yet decided, floats the idea of restricting access to occupations that do not have a shortage of employees.

It suggests the number of EU citizens able to come to the UK for low-skilled work could be limited by a salary threshold, an assessment of the skill level of the occupation, or a direct cap on numbers.

A scheme for temporary or seasonal workers could be introduced, while employers may need to complete an "economic needs test" to check whether suitable recruits can be found locally before hiring an EU migrant.

Those in highly skilled roles who have a contract of more than 12 months could be given a residence permit lasting three to five years, with two years for other occupations.

The bulk of any new restrictions would not fully take effect until after an implementation period of at least two years.

The paper sets out possible new rules for family members of EU citizens. These could be modelled on a current regime which says UK citizens, or non-EU nationals, who wish to be joined by non-European dependants have to earn at least £18,600 a year.

The draft emphasises that the Government "welcomes and encourages" EU students and does not wish to restrict their access "per se", but it adds some restrictions may be necessary.

EU citizens coming as tourists, on short-term business trips or visits to friends and family would be able to enter the UK without needing permission.

The paper says the starting point will be that permission to enter the UK will be conferred automatically for EU nationals. It is envisaged they would have to show a passport rather than an ID card, while a new electronic pre-clearance system could be introduced.

EU citizens coming to the UK during the post-Brexit implementation period would be able to work or study for the first few months without prior permission from the Home Office. Those staying longer would need to register for a residence permit by showing proof of employment, study or self-sufficiency. Applicants' fingerprints could also be taken.

The paper sets out an intention to provide a route to settle in the UK for those coming to work in highly skilled occupations and their dependants. This could be granted after five years' continuous residence. Views will be sought on the settlement rights for other EU citizens.

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