Northern Ireland

Brexit immigration rules 'threat to NI'

farm workers Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Northern Ireland's agri-industry could suffer, says the CBI

Proposed immigration rules after Brexit "risk causing significant harm" to NI businesses, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.

The government is currently consulting on a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for foreign workers seeking five-year visas.

The CBI said firms could face "severe difficulties" getting staff.

The Home Office said the future system would "support businesses", but firms should train local workers.

Some sectors in NI are heavily dependant on workers from Europe, such as food and drink manufacturing.

The average private sector wage in Northern Ireland is £22,000 and the CBI said 71% of all workers in the region earn below £30,000.

Image caption The CBI's Angela McGowan says the proposed salary limits would make Northern Ireland poorer

The CBI's Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan said: "Our agri-industry, hospitals, house builders and retailers are examples of major employers already struggling to find the people they need at salaries well below £30,000.

"Installing further barriers via these proposals will make Northern Ireland poorer."

'Transitional measure'

The government is proposing the biggest shake-up of immigration policy for 40 years, with the ending of free movement from Europe a key part of Brexit.

It has said lower-skilled and unskilled migrants will not routinely be able to come to the UK and settle permanently.

However, as a "transitional measure", people from "low-risk countries" in Europe and further afield will be able to come to the UK without a job offer and seek work for up to a year.

Before it collapsed, the Northern Ireland Executive's initial response to Brexit in 2016 called for a policy that was flexible enough to allow access to "unskilled as well as highly-skilled labour".

However, last September the Migration Advisory Committee, which advises government, said Northern Ireland should not have a separate immigration regime after Brexit.

'Short-term workers route'

In a statement in response to the CBI's concerns, a Home Office spokesperson said: "We are confident the future immigration system will support businesses in Northern Ireland, for example, by removing the caps on the number of work visas, reducing the skills threshold, abolishing outdated labour market tests and bringing in a new digital sponsorship system to cut processing times.

"We are engaging with businesses on the £30,000 salary threshold but in any event, there is likely to be a lower rate for occupations that the Independent Migration Advisory Committee indicates are in shortage.

"Businesses should also be training up people living in Northern Ireland to fill their vacancies, but we recognise they need time to adjust to the new system.

"This is why there will be a temporary short-term workers route for employers to bring in workers at all skill levels for 12 months, subject to tightly defined conditions."

Related Topics

More on this story