Why the new £30,000 immigration threshold will be bad for Scotland
Jack Gevertz is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of UK immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.
Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29 March. It follows two years of negotiations since Article 50 was triggered: the exit mechanism by which we can quit the bloc.
As the negotiations have been ongoing, the Government has been keen to outline what life in Britain will look like once they’ve concluded. The Immigration White Paper, released last December, gives us a sense of Britain’s post-Brexit immigration vision. It contains a proposal to extend the £30,000 immigration threshold. This is something that non-EU citizens have to prove when they make a Tier 2 Visa application. That could now be extended to EU citizens, effectively bringing parity between all citizens from across the world who want to come to Britain.
However, a number of problems have been noted regarding the idea, and its damaging impact on the UK’s regions and nations. Scotland, for example, whose industries rely on lower-paid labour would particularly suffer.
We can see the threat it poses when looking at the overall population and employment picture in Scotland. According to the National Records of Scotland, the changes to the immigration system could see the number of migrants coming to the country plummeting by more than fifty per cent year over the next twenty years.
That’s particularly bad when you consider the impact on certain Scottish industries. Take hospitality for example. Ninety-four per cent of roles do not earn the £30,000 salary. This means there is clearly a huge reliance on lower-paid members of staff, one in twelve of whom come from the EU. After Brexit and when the new threshold comes in, a lot of people from these countries who would have previously been allowed in, will no longer be able to.
The hotels, bars, and bed and breakfasts they work in will lose out: not just in terms of the labour they need to run their businesses, but also in the wider supply chain. Workers, for example, who do jobs in the textiles industry, which involve cleaning and ironing the linen on hotel beds; most of them wouldn’t be allowed to come into Scotland under this new proposal.
Worse is the case of the Scottish social care industry, which has already seen problems caused by stagnant wages and an increasing workload. Large numbers of people are leaving the industry, while there’s a shortage of qualified individuals to take up new and emerging posts. Three quarters of social care services in Scotland currently have vacancies, according to Scottish Care. And forty-four per cent of these rely on the EU as a recruitment source. Curtailing free movement and implementing a threshold means it’s highly unlikely that these vacancies will be filled, leaving patients and carers themselves to suffer.
The average social care salary in Scotland is just £18,000. Only ten per cent earn £25,000 and no-one earns more than £30,000. Cuts to organisational budgets and pressures on funding mean it is unlikely salaries would be raised to meet the threshold. That could mean relatives and friends having to take on social care tasks in place of actual organisations.
It’s a shame then that the new threshold will put even greater pressure on an already struggling social care industry in Scotland. And that could be damaging in regions which are already finding it hard to attract migrants: rural areas, for example.
In the Highlands, the average salary is £27,000. Here, over half of companies (54 per cent) reported having a skills gap, compared with the rest of Scotland at 36 per cent. Skilled migrants from other countries are therefore very welcome. Yet, not many are choosing to actually come. In 2017, less than one in twelve of those who settled in a rural area were from outside the UK. That compares with more than one in four for cities.
Rural areas in Scotland tend to be dominated by small businesses. These can’t afford to offer workplace opportunities and higher salaries. They are therefore far less likely to have jobs that meet the £30,000 threshold.
This means, coupled with the ending of free movement, there will need to be new initiatives to encourage migration to rural parts of Scotland. And that’s going to be a challenge when you consider what’s also facing these areas: a lacking modern infrastructure and low numbers of affordable housing. A cap as high as the one proposed will only further serve to deter people from rural areas and incentivise them towards the cities.
Even the non-EU migrants who have come are likely to be in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Only one in four people between the ages of 22 and 29 earn £30,000. The problem with this is as the population grows older so do the needs on the Government: on pensions and healthcare. The National Records of Scotland has also noted the country’s birth rate is at a historic low. So, who is going to pay for these challenges if the country fails to attract enough young migrants and cannot produce enough children to eventually take on the jobs themselves?
Those who do want to come may find themselves facing additional barriers if they are women. A report by the Scottish Government found two in three women in each Scottish council area do not earn £30,000. Most, even in the occupations they dominate, don’t even take home £25,000. The threshold therefore could serve to exacerbate gender inequality in Scotland.
However, there could be a solution: giving Scotland direct control over immigration and asylum. Scottish politicians themselves could set the threshold, or no threshold, they think would benefit their constituents most. They could also decide what visas to issue and under what conditions. Although, it’s not likely this proposal would pass because the UK Government has expressed disinterest in giving Scotland control over these matters.
Nonetheless, it’s clear the £30,000 threshold will be damaging for Scotland. Rural communities in particular will suffer as will a number of the country’s key industries. The Migration Advisory Committee should think hard about its proposed threshold and whether it will truly benefit all parts of the UK. Or, whether instead, it will merely serve to exacerbate inequalities, anger and upset.