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NI politicans worry about the new immigration rules

Brexit: Digest of business-focussed articles from national and international media, selected by George Hamilton. Some may require a subscription to obtain the full version (paywall).

This digest is almost entirely focussed on the government’s new immigration points system:

Headlines in this issue:

  • NI politicans worry about the new scheme
  • ..as do business groups both here and in GB
  • But government says all will be well..
  • ..and we’ll keep Polish plumbers
  • A list of problems for industry makes chilling reading
  • And finally, our sausages will make an even bigger sizzle in Europe

Immigration rules: NI politicians speak out about government plans

Politicians from a number of Northern Ireland’s parties have expressed concern about newly-announced immigration rules.

Retail and hospitality representatives said the plans could cause staff shortages in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and UUP all expressed concerns about the plans.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would lobby the government “to see if there is scope for regional variations” after saying the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers coming to the UK might be too high for Northern Ireland’s needs.

He said the agri-food sector had suggested £22,000 a year would be a more appropriate threshold, rather than the £25,600 proposed by the government.

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazard described the government’s plans as “nothing but a xenophobic diktat”.

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said the plans “posed a particular threat to Northern Ireland”.

The North Down MP said: “A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work.

“The salary thresholds will bring challenges for key sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism, agri-food, and social care – salary levels are not always a reliable indicator of skills.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also branded the changes a “fundamental threat” to Northern Ireland’s economy and provision of public services.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA John Stewart said the government had “already shown scant regard to Northern Ireland through its withdrawal agreement with the EU”.

The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said it was “quite clear” the region was not a priority.

Aodhán Connolly said the minimum salary threshold was a higher salary than some architects and solicitors make in Northern Ireland.

Mr Connolly said while there was potential for some of these people to come into the workforce, it would not come close to covering the shortfall created by the new immigration rules.


BBC News NI 19 Feb

NI hospitality industry woes

The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster has warned that the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland faces a “crippling blow” if new immigration laws are introduced by the British Home Office.

Colin Neill told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that Northern Ireland did not have enough people to work in the sector. He said the number of EU nationals working in the North is declining, with one restaurant deferring its opening because it cannot find staff.

“We are looking to double the number of jobs in the sector to 25,000, but we just won’t have the people to fill them.”


Irish Times 19 Feb

So, what are the new rules?

New system ‘not the end of the Polish builder’.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel said that so long as labourers “have the right kind of skills” they would be welcome to come to the UK.

Ms Patel said that while the new system was not “just about one particular example”, she suggested Polish builders and other workers would still be welcome if they met the new requirements.

Boris Johnson will introduce the new laws next month aimed at limiting migration to skilled workers from the EU and rest of the world who have a job offer, speak English and command a salary of £25,600 a year or more.

Ministers claim it will lead to a “significant reduction” in migration with advisors saying up to 70 per cent of EU workers allowed into the UK since 2004 would not have qualified under the points system.

Priti Patel says it’s ‘about time’ more Britons are trained up

The Home Secretary said industries relying on a migrant workforce should look closer to home when recruiting new employees, as she said it was “about time businesses started to invest in people in this country”.

“We have over eight million people – that is 20% of the workforce – aged between 16 and 64 that are economically inactive right now,” she told Sky News.

However, she cautioned that it was “ridiculous” to suggest the Home Office was putting the brakes entirely on businesses recruiting from abroad.

“If they have an employer and they meet the skills and points threshold, then of course they can come to the United Kingdom to work,” she said.

“It is ridiculous to imply that we are just shutting down routes and that people can’t come into the UK.”

Nicola Sturgeon described the UK’s new immigration system as “devastating” for Scotland.


GB business groups raise alarms

Business groups from the CBI to the bodies representing the farming, hospitality and care work sectors have all raised the alarm about the new system, saying it will cause labour shortages.

Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “Jobs the government considers ‘low-skilled’ are vital to wellbeing and business growth. The announcement threatens to shut out the people we need to provide services the public rely on.

“We need access to workers that can help us look after the elderly, build homes and keep the economy strong.”

The UK Hospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said “ruling out a temporary, low-skilled route for migration in just 10 months’ time would be disastrous for the hospitality sector and the British people” and deter investment in the high street.

The Confederation of British Industry director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, said the removal of the cap on the number of skilled workers was welcome, but she warned that in “some sectors, firms would be left wondering how they would recruit the people needed to run their businesses.

“With already low unemployment, firms in care, construction, hospitality, food and drink could be most affected,” she said.

The hospitality sector will also be hit with no “barista visa” for coffee shops, despite warnings from Pret A Manger two years ago that only one in 50 job applicants were British.

The government said it was removing waiters, waitresses, and “elementary” jobs in agriculture and fishing from the skilled list and added them to the unskilled list in line with the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations.


The Guardian 19 Feb

But for some the rules are not tough enough:

Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for lower immigration, warns that the relaxation of rules around skilled workers will increase job competition from overseas.

“Not only will millions of UK workers see their jobs opened up to new or greater competition from overseas workers in much poorer countries, but employers will no longer have to look to find anyone at home before searching abroad,” he said.


The Times 19 Feb

So, a BBC round-up of the eight ways new laws will affect industry:

1. A challenge for companies needing lower-skilled workers

2. Trouble for social care sector

3. Construction concerns over worker shortages

4. NHS needs smooth supply of foreign workers

5. Points system good for university scientists

6. Tech industry celebrates lower salary cap

7. More farm workers needed

8. Visas may be harder for retail workers


BBC News NI 19 Feb

But in the midst of all this, Brexit is good for breakfast in NI…

Sales of Northern Ireland sausages set to sizzle after Brexit due to GB limitations

Northern Ireland sausage makers could see growth in exports to the Republic and beyond after claims that the EU has no provisions in place for the import of such foods.

The Times has reported that manufacturers of sausages and some other meat products in Great Britain will have no legal basis to sell their products to the EU when the transition period ends.

According to the British Meat Processors Association, around £17m of sausage meat is sold to the EU by the UK every year, with 45% sold to the Republic. Products leaving GB will require an EU export health certificate after Brexit.

However, under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, producers here will be sticking to EU rules – giving them continued freedom to sell into the Republic and the rest of the EU.

Peter Hardwick of the British Meat Processors Association said the restriction on GB sausage meat – which will apply if there is no free trade agreement – may ultimately benefit producers here. “This could be an opportunity for Northern Ireland,” he said.

Major sausage producers in Northern Ireland include Finnebrogue Artisan, Cranswick plc and Karro Food, which makes Cookstown Sausages.


Belfast Telegraph 19 Feb