Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have been urged to lower the annual salary threshold for migrant workers from £30,000 to £20,000 to avoid further exacerbating a skills crisis in the UK after Brexit.
A coalition of business and education groups wrote to the candidates to be Britain’s next prime minister calling for a commitment to slash the earnings threshold and reform the immigration system if they win the Tory leadership contest.
Under current rules, all non-EU citizens working in the UK must earn at least £30,000; a threshold that will apply to all non-UK workers after Brexit.
The group, which includes the British Retail Consortium, business advocacy group London First, Hospitality UK and Universities UK among others, also wants the government to revise the sponsorship model to make it easier for firms of all sizes to bring in the overseas workers they need.
The coalition warned that more than 60 per cent of workers in the UK are paid less than the £30,000 salary threshold and that, without reforms to current rules, employers will face a “cliff-edge” drop off in recruitment after the UK leaves the EU. Significant proportions of nurses, carers and teachers are paid less than £30,000 and so would not be allowed into the country.
A number of business groups have previously warned that they are already facing difficulties finding staff with appropriate skills as unemployment remains at its lowest level since the mid-1970s.
Stepping up pressure on Britain’s would-be prime ministers, the joint letter says: “Our country needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps it open to all levels of talent that our economy and local services sorely need.
“It is crucial that this system recognises the benefits of international talent whilst ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively, necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.
“Without the ability to access international talent, many of our world-class sectors are at significant risk.”
Mr Hunt, the underdog candidate for the Tory leadership, has said he wants to review the £30,000 salary minimum, while overwhelming favourite Mr Johnson has proposed an Australian-style points-based immigration system.
“It is vital that the government does all it can to keep the country at full strength at a time of great uncertainty,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive at London First.
“The thousands of businesses we represent are clear that without a bold move now on immigration reform, the skills shortages many companies face risk becoming even more acute.“
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our new skills-based immigration system is designed to attract the talented workers we need for the economy to continue to prosper, while also delivering on the referendum result following the end of free movement.
“We know there are a range of views about salary thresholds, and the home secretary has asked independent experts to advise on this issue before the proposals are finalised next year.”