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FTA: Brexit immigration white paper is vague, risks staff shortages

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LONDON — The government’s white paper on immigration after Brexit lacks key details and could create chronic staff shortages for UK companies, one of the country’s leading industry associations has warned.

The plans unveiled by Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday “need much more meat on the bones” and “goes into details about what people won’t be entitled to but not really how it’s going to work,” Sally Gilson of the Freight Transport Association told Business Insider.

Gilson, the FTA’s head of skills, said companies were “relieved” to learn that Theresa May’s plan to bar immigrants who earn less than £30,000 a year will be put to a consultation, warning that it would quickly cripple industries such as warehousing.

“Just like there isn’t a magic money tree, there isn’t a magic labour supply either,” Gilson told BI.

Around 88% of logistics workers in the UK earn less than £30,000 a year, and many come to the UK from the EU to work. Approximately 19% of warehouse workers are EU citizens, for example.

“It will affect smaller businesses where they can’t afford to pay those kinds of salaries,” Gilson said.

Ministers agreed to put the £30,000 threshold proposal to a lengthy consultation after a Cabinet row. Some ministers argued for the threshold to be £21,000, BI understands, but May was adamant that it could not be that low.

However, while the FTA welcomed the decision to put the “skewed” £30,000 threshold to consultation, it is “concerned” about other details in white paper, as well as the details that were not included.

Gilson pointed out that the government’s proposed temporary workers scheme didn’t clarify how it would work for EU citizens who make very short trips to the UK in order to pick up trucks before touring around the continent.

Under the terms of this particular proposal, a skilled citizen from a “low-risk country,” likely to include all EU member states, to live and work in the UK for up to 12 months before returning to their home countries.

“An EU driver will come here, pick up the truck and then tour for a few months. They don’t want to be resident here but need to come here. They did reference this kind of worker in the white paper but no real detail,” she explained.

The Home Office has not responded to BI’s request for comment.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

On Wednesday the CBI, Britain’s largest business group, said the government’s proposals would be a “sucker punch” for businesses across the country and said they would damage public confidence as well as the British economy.

“All skill levels matter to the UK economy. A temporary 12-month route for overseas workers earning under £30,000 would encourage firms to hire a different person each year,” the group’s Deputy Direct-General Josh Hardie said.

“That needlessly increases costs and discourages migrants from integrating into local communicates — a key social concern. It’s not good for the public or business.”

“A new immigration system must command public confidence and support the economy. These proposals would achieve neither.”

Owen Smith, Labour MP and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the FTA’s response was “yet more evidence that the Government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration laws would be a disaster for business in our country.”

He added: “As the Freight Transport Association are warning, the freight and logistics sector would be decimated under these plans, but they’re not the only ones – the healthcare and hospitality sectors would also suffer huge damage.

“The proposed £30,000 salary threshold for immigration would mean the UK turning away badly-needed workers who help make our country run properly. And there is no clarity about how the system would function for temporary workers like truck drivers, who criss-cross the European continent on their journeys.”

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