Immigration threshold threatens local retailing community

Immigration threshold of £30,000

The UK Government’s £30,000 immigration threshold could seriously destabilise the Scottish local retailing community.

by J.S. von Dacre

Brexit is the current talk of the town in the UK – and understandably so. The future of the country hangs in an unsteady balance, and no one knows how the scales will tip next.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the immigration legislation that will come into play post-Brexit. In particular, EU citizens are becoming increasingly worried about what new system will be introduced.

Last December, the Government released The Immigration White Paper that outlined a proposal for the salary threshold for immigration. It is due to be set at £30,000, which would apply for those filling a Tier 2 Visa application.

This will also be extended to EU citizens who wish to come to the UK in post-Brexit Britain. What this means, essentially, is that anyone who is a migrant – whether EU or non-EU – will need to earn at least £30,000 to be considered for a visa. These changes are due to come into effect in 2021.

A new Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report has shown how this would be particularly damaging for Scotland, since its economy is heavily dependent on labour forces earning below £30,000. For many years, thousands of EU citizens have moved to Scotland to take jobs paying less than this amount, many of them in convenience stores across the country. So, significant changes in such laws could mean that immigration figures will drop by more than 50% over the next 20 years.

More than two-thirds of the Scottish population earn less than £30,000. In the hospitality industry alone, for instance, 94% of workers earn far below this mark.

A study conducted by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow found that Brexit would see the UK competing with the USA, Canada, and Australia for migrants. This would have “substantial effects” on workers for lower-skilled jobs.

“For many migrants, the relative ease and speed with which decisions to relocate can be made in the context of free movement have helped to make the UK/Scotland an attractive destination,” researchers said.

“Participants stated very clearly that in the absence of free movement, the UK would have to compete more strongly with other English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia, particularly with regards to migration to lower-skilled jobs.

“In short, both data sets show very clearly that a more complicated post- Brexit immigration regime will deprive the UK/Scotland of some of its main advantages over other possible migrant destination countries, both within the EEA and beyond, at least amongst some groups of potential EEA migrants.”

Skills gap

Scotland’s lack of modern infrastructure in rural areas, along with the challenges to find affordable housing, pose further problems. It means that the new immigration policy would only further dissuade people from not only moving to Scotland but also from moving to remote areas. In the Highlands alone, the average salary is £27,000 and 54% of the companies have a skills gap where better work opportunities are simply not affordable.

A recent report by Scottish Rural Action (SRA) highlighted the impact that Brexit will have on rural parts of Scotland. Amanda Burgauer, SRA Chairwoman, said: “There is widespread anger and frustration across rural Scotland, but that anger isn’t solely about Brexit.

“It was clear from workshop discussions that Brexit is compounding long standing concerns about rural equity and fragility. Brexit was described as the ‘straw that breaks rural Scotland’s back’, with people pointing to structural fragilities across rural communities.”

If Scotland is given more control over its own immigration policies, then Scottish politicians will be able to set a wage threshold that will be more conducive for its society. They could also supervise what sort of visas can be issued, depending on the circumstances.

Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ Europe spokesman, said: “It outlines how other English-speaking countries and other countries in the EEA will become ‘more attractive destinations’ than Scotland. Worse still, families with young children, looking for a new home for the long term, will be deterred by a ‘more restrictive system’.

“This will cause huge damage to our economy and to essential services such as the NHS and care system which rely heavily on workers from elsewhere in Europe. Until the Scottish Parliament has full control of immigration policy, Scotland will always be at a severe disadvantage in attracting those people wishing to make a contribution to our society and economy.”

The UK Government, however, has been continuously hesitant to give control to Scotland for such cases, so it may be quite unlikely for this to happen. Either way, the £30,000 threshold would cause a catalogue of problems and tension for the Scottish economy.

J.S. von Dacre is a correspondent and commentator for the Immigration Advice Service