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New immigration system 'must be right from day one' says CBI

FUTURE: Home Secretary Priti Patel meets students and staff working on ‘carbon capture’ at Imperial College London, where she announced plans for a new points-based immigration system

THE government "must get its new points-based immigration system right from day one" if it is to ensure economic growth and protect the UK's global reputation as it forges a new path outside the EU, according to the CBI's Northern Ireland head.

Angela McGowan was speaking in the wake of proposals being published which takes different factors like skills and language into account when awarding visas to allow people to work in the UK.

Potential migrants to the UK will have to score 70 points on the new system in order to qualify for a visa, with points being awarded for having a job offer from an approved employer at an appropriate skill level, speaking English and having a relevant qualification.

But with no route for low skilled temporary employment and no time for businesses to adapt, the speed and scale of the changes will require significant adjustment by businesses and have implications for a region where access to skills and low productivity are already serious concerns, business bodies say.

Ms McGowan said: “Northern Irish firms recognise that change is coming and have sought a system that is both open and controlled, values people's contribution beyond their salary and works for all parts of the UK.

“Several aspects of the new system will be welcomed by business, expanding the pilot seasonal agricultural workers scheme, abolishing the cap on skilled visas, introducing a new post-study work visa for overseas students, and reducing the minimum salary threshold from £30,000.

“But the proposed new system continues to pose real challenges for businesses here. Key sectors, in particular our vital agri-food industry, will be concerned about how they can recruit people across all levels of skill they need, not only to grow but to fulfil existing commitments.”

She added: “Against a backdrop of a highly competitive labour market and a declining working age population, many Northern Ireland firms, even those fully committed to investing in training and development, need migrant workers to grow and compete.

“Further consideration must be given to how the new system can be implemented across all regions and nations of the UK. That means looking at ways to improve flexibility and market responsiveness, including through regularly reviewed shortage occupation lists.

“Above all, the government must work with employers and employees - especially smaller firms - to ensure they have the time to adapt to new policies and practices.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel has identified the eight million "economically inactive" people in the UK as a potential source of new recruits for businesses, who could be given skills and training to offset any shortages caused by the new points-based immigration system.

According to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the three months to December 2019 there were just under 8.5 million people between the ages of 16 and 64 in the UK who were economically inactive.

In Northern Ireland that figure is 301,000 or 25.8 per cent of the workforce, and is made up of those who are looking after a home, long term sick or disabled, students and retired. That number is down 11,000 over the last year.

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