The salary threshold for migrants coming to work in the UK should be dropped by more than £4,000 to £25,600, a report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended.
Those coming to the UK to work, from outside the EU, previously needed to have a job offer with a salary of £30,000 or more. The salary threshold would be dropped for those seeking a Tier 2 (General) visa, as a means of expanding the remit to include medium- as well as high-skilled workers.
Medium-skilled workers are considered to be those of RQ3 level 3 and above, which applies to those with AS- or A-levels, NVQ level 3, a National Diploma or equivalent.
The proposed rules, which would apply to EU workers after the Brexit transition period, continue to require workers applying under the visa to have a job offer in place.
Ahead of the report's publication this morning, Number 10 had signaled it would be ready to drop the £30,000 salary threshold, which had concerned business leaders and industry bodies.
However, ministers had continued to champion a system that would prioritise those considered ‘high-skilled' workers and last week home secretary Priti Patel told Sky News that businesses "have been far too reliant on low-skilled and quite frankly cheap labour from the EU".
Seemingly in line with this sentiment, the committee has not recommended lower salary thresholds are introduced for work forces on the Shortage Occupation List, stating that "a shortage is generally an indication that wages are below market-clearing levels so that allowing these jobs to pay lower salaries could have the effect of perpetuating shortage".
Today's report said "difficult trade-offs" would be unavoidable with any new system, and the largest impact is expected to be in sectors primarily employing low-skilled workers that would not be eligible under the proposed restriction to medium-skilled and higher-skilled workers under Tier 2 (General). It suggests that the government, if concerned, could address this through a temporary worker route or sector-based scheme.
The MAC also supported recommendations of a points-based system for the Tier One Exceptional Visa, scaled to encourage those qualified in fields particularly attractive to the government. However prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced the introduction of a new un-capped fast-track visa scheme to attract the world's top scientists, researchers and mathematicians.
Ahead of the publication of the MAC's recommendations Industry, groups had lobbied the government to pursue an immigration system that would "work for the entire UK economy".
Joss Croft, UKinbound CEO said: "Designing a future immigration system for the UK is a complex task and whilst there are several recommendations in today's MAC report that we welcome, it is clear that there remain considerable challenges for the UK tourism industry (which currently employs substantive numbers of EU nationals), and it will have to adjust significantly under a new system.
A reduction in the proposed salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 (and from £20,800 to £17,920 for new entrants), whilst welcome, will not solve the skills shortage issue in an industry where the average full time wage is £23,000; and the rejection of the inclusion of part time workers (whose average salary is £17,000 and on which the industry relies to a significant extent) will also be detrimental."
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said that the MAC's proposal that government looks again at how the low-skilled temporary visa route into work can work for the hospitality sector was welcome "as the majority of migrants in hospitality do not work in highly-paid roles".
She added: "A continuing route for these incredibly valuable workers is paramount, particularly as hospitality has had the highest proportionate number of vacancies for the past 18 years. Currently, it runs at 4 vacancies per 100 jobs, compared to a figure of 2.6 for the wider economy. The new system must be flexible enough to address sector-specific shortages across the economy and we are happy to work with to make the case for our industry.
"A helpful step forward would be to extend the Youth Mobility Scheme to EU countries and make this a vital part of future trade deals with other countries, thereby providing another route for young workers into the sector.
"The system needs to be flexible to address labour shortages and not focus solely on higher skills. We need skills routes for all and we are certainly willing to work with the Government to ensure the system is responsive, works for the UK and avoids unnecessary bureaucracy and costs for employers."
The British Takeaway Campaign had written to immigration minister Kevin Foster ahead of the publication of the report calling for future policy to make allowances for the skilled chefs needed in its members' businesses.