THE UK Government has unveiled a five-point package of measures with the aim of delivering the biggest reduction in net migration on record.
Home Secretary James Cleverly set out plans to make it significantly harder for companies to employ foreign workers and to bring foreign spouses to the UK, a ban on care workers bringing family members with them and a review on allowing foreign students to stay in the UK after their course ends.
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However, there are concerns that the changes will hinder economic growth in regions – like the North-east of Scotland – where there is an urgent need for workers to ease shortages.
The measures, along with previously announced plans to ban foreign students bringing their family to the UK, will reduce net migration by more than 300,000, Mr Cleverly told MPs.
They go further than Downing Street had initially intended and come amid growing pressure from Conservative MPs and some in government, including the immigration minister Robert Jenrick, for a more radical approach to slash numbers.
The most significant measure announced by Cleverly was a major increase in the minimum salary threshold for foreign workers, from £26,200 to £38,700, which will come into effect in the spring. A small number of shortage occupations will be exempt from the higher threshold, among them health and social care workers.
Mr Cleverly pledged to scrap the shortage occupation list, a scheme that allows employers in industries facing labour shortages to hire foreign workers at 20% below the going rate in their sector. This will be replaced by a new immigration salary list with a reduced number of occupations.
Meanwhile, foreign health and care workers will be banned from bringing their children, spouses and partners — collectively known as dependants — with them to the UK.
A final measure will be an independent review of the graduate visa route, which currently allows foreign students to stay in the UK for up to two years after finishing their course without the need to get a job.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, is concerned about the impact the policy will have on the region and has urged businesses to share their views.
“Today’s announcement further highlights why control of immigration policy should be devolved down to a regional level – because a one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work,” he said.
“If regions like the North-east of Scotland are to prosper in the decades ahead, then they will need to overcome the significant challenge posed by their ageing population base.
“By 2030, a fifth of our population will be of retirement age. By 2050, that figure will surpass a quarter. This presents a significant challenge around the human capital we require for our wider economy to function.
“Human mobility and migration are often misunderstood or misrepresented in this debate, and what might be the right policy for one part of the UK could be the wrong policy for another part.
“This policy is the polar opposite of what the North-east of Scotland requires right now – we need more people to power our economy, not fewer.
“We are now engaging with our members across the region to understand the full impact of these changes before making representations to government. If your business is going to be affected, we want to hear from you.”