Business groups frustrated by failure to recommend unique migrant salary threshold for Northern Ireland

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 for skilled migrants after Brexit. Picture by Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Ryan McAleer

BUSINESS groups have expressed frustration after an expert committee recommended that Northern Ireland should not have its own salary threshold for immigrants after Brexit.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said the UK Government should drop the lower limit by £4,400 to £25,600. Current policy requires skilled migrants from outside the EU to have a minimum salary of £30,000.

While the influential committee acknowledged the north's unique position though its ‘distinct' labour market and land border with the Republic, no specific salary threshold for Northern Ireland was forthcoming from the MAC group on Tuesday.

Official figures last year put the average salary in the north at just under £27,500, around £3,000 below the UK average.

Business groups here have warned that the economy will suffer if limits are placed on immigration.

The CBI has said as it stands, the north's ageing population means the workforce population is likely to decrease by two per cent over the next two decades. It has projected scenarios where GDP could sink by between five and nine per cent by 2041, depending on the barriers placed on migrants.

The NI Chamber has previously recommended a £21,000 threshold for Northern Ireland.

Its chief executive Ann McGregor said: “Although the salary threshold has been reduced, it is extremely disappointing that it remains high and not specific to Northern Ireland.

“The recommendations made by local businesses and business groups throughout two years of consultation have been ignored,” she said.

“This risks limiting access to skills for many of our members across a wide-range of sectors.”

Hospitality Ulster boss Colin Neill said: “Once again, there seems to be a failure to take into consideration the unique set of circumstances here.”

The pubs group projects around 30,000 vacancies within the north's hospitality sector by 2024. Mr Neill said the lowered threshold is still too high.

“The hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is hugely reliant on workers from overseas and we have some grave concerns about what the future may bring.

“There is real danger of negative impacts on the sustainability of a sector of the economy which has significant growth potential. It already contributes £1.2bn per annum, but that could change.”

Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) yesterday called for a bespoke system for Northern Ireland.

“The report correctly identifies that the economic position of Northern Ireland is ‘distinctive', and that the matter of a specific salary threshold is worthy of ‘future consideration',” he said.

“We would urge the Government to take this into account when reviewing the MAC's recommendations.

“Given that Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU regulations for goods after Brexit, and businesses here will compete for labour on an all-Ireland basis, it is crucial that the immigration system is suitably flexible for small businesses to meet their skills needs.”

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