The 1st of January 2021 will mark the start of a brand new era in UK immigration policy. Participation in EU freedom of movement will have drawn to a close, meaning that EU citizens will be subject to all aspects of the new points-based immigration system, from the salary threshold of £25,600 per year to the need to score at least 70 points.
Yet despite the immense economic and demographic differences that exist between the regions of the UK, the system will be rolled out in all parts of the country equally, with no room for regional variation. This is expected to make it much harder for a number of regional areas to recruit migrant workers, causing considerable harm to their local economies in the process. Below, we look at some of the regions where the new system will have a real impact.
The Chief Executive of Scottish Tourism Alliance has already expressed serious concerns regarding the impact that the new system will have on the tourism industry north of the border:
‘This system will exacerbate the existing recruitment challenge the industry is already facing due to the current steady decline in international workforce retention and application and there not being a sufficient number of skilled workforce available to tap into, placing the sector, one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.’
As it stands, Scotland’s tourism industry is dependent on the work of EU citizens. Despite comprising just short of 5 percent of Scotland’s population, EU nationals comprise upwards of 8 percent of the overall workforce in the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector. The high rates of participation in what is classed as a ‘low-skilled’ industry has been facilitated by the flexibility that EU freedom of movement provides.
As it stands, migrants do not have to meet a salary threshold in order to work in Scotland, and are therefore able to take up in employment in all manner of sectors, something that has been hugely beneficial to the health of industries such as tourism. However, when the new immigration system becomes operational on New Year’s Day, this flexibility will be no more, and EU citizens will be required to apply for a UK Visa.
Taking this into account, the concerns of the Scottish Tourism Alliance are well-founded. Even though the government has accepted the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation to lower the new salary threshold from £30,000 per year to £25,600, this is still likely to result in a staggering 50 percent decrease in net EU migration, placing the future prosperity of several industries at serious risk.
Similarly, local government and industry figures in Cumbria are concerned about the impact the forthcoming immigration changes will have on the region’s £3bn tourism industry. Like Scotland, they express concerns regarding the way the new system will prevent considerable numbers of migrants from settling in the area:
‘European workers are an important asset and we’re calling on the Government to rethink this flawed policy, which will severely restrict our industry’s ability to attract and retain the staff they need to not only to fill job roles but also to deliver world class customer service.’
Despite immigration being most commonly associated with the UK’s major cities, it has quietly played a role in counteracting depopulation and decline in a number of smaller settlements, due in no small part to the flexility that EU freedom of movement provides.
Cumbria has been a key beneficiary of immigration in this regard- according to research from Our Global Future, the population of the South Lakeland local authority would have declined by 4 percent between 2001 and 2016 were it not for immigration. As a result, it would be catastrophic for the economies of these regions if, as planned, the new immigration system is implemented without any provisions for less-populated areas.
The Canadian model
With this in mind, it is important to assess whether a regional approach to immigration could be developed in order to provide rural areas with continued access to the people they need.
Canada’s Provincial Nominee Programme (PNP) does exactly this by enabling individual states and provinces to select the migrants most suited to their demographic and economic needs. Provinces are responsible for setting the eligibility criteria for their PNP, and as a result are able to target migrants with certain characteristics, for example a job offer in a required field. If the UK took a similar approach, regions could design criteria that would ensure continued access to the type of migrants they need in order to thrive.
With the benefits that immigration can bring to lesser-populated areas impossible to refute, it seems vital that the UK has a regional approach to immigration. If regional autonomy was provided, then the points-based system would be fairer, resulting in more of the right employees filling much needed roles in the UK economy and not having large parts of a potential workforce ruled out.
Paul McShane is a writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers who provide legal aid to asylum seekers.
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