Post-Brexit immigration restrictions would cause 'significant harm' to north's economy - CBI

Over a third (39 per cent) of workers within food and drink manufacturing are EEA (European Economic Area) nationals.
Gareth McKeown

POST-Brexit immigration restrictions could cause "significant harm" to a Northern Ireland economy reliant on EU labour, the CBI has warned.

The business body's latest study shows that continued access to overseas workers is vital for businesses in the north and is helping to drive prosperity.

Under the proposed post-Brexit immigration system, companies would be prevented from employing workers on annual salaries of less than £30,000 for more than a year, a move that could present particular difficulties for sectors such as food processing, agri-food and hospitality.

The CBI study says that should the salary threshold recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee in September be introduced the north's economy would suffer due to its low salary levels and reliance on EU labour.

According to the figures 71 per cent of workers in the north earn below the £30,000 marker, with the median private sector wage of £22,016, almost £2,000 less than the UK equivalent (£24,006).

The strain would be strikingly pronounced within the north's manufacturing sector, where 72 per cent of workers earn less than £30,000 a year, while within food and drink manufacturing over a third (39 per cent) of workers are EEA (European Economic Area) nationals.

The publication comes less than six months after a separate CBI report claimed that if EU migration is cut by 50 per cent, the north's economy will be five per cent smaller by 2041.

CBI Northern Ireland director, Angela McGowan said continued access to overseas workers after Brexit is "vital to drive growth, innovation and prosperity" in Northern Ireland.

"The Government’s current proposals risk causing significant harm at a time of uncertainty for business," she said.

“A one-year limit on workers earning less than £30,000 would encourage firms to hire a different person each year, needlessly increasing costs and discouraging migrants from integrating into communities.

“Leaving the EU should be an opportunity to develop an independent immigration policy that works for business by being both open to allow our economy to grow and controlled to restore public confidence.”

Ms McGowan has urged a rethink in policy in light of the growing skills shortage in Northern Ireland.

"Our Agri-industry, hospitals, housebuilders and retailers are just a few 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."

“The Government must use this 12-month engagement period to listen to our businesses and go back to the drawing board. Otherwise calls for a bespoke regional immigration solution for Northern Ireland will only grow louder," she added.

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.”


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