A Labour government would restrict the flow of foreign workers into Britain by ending the current rules allowing companies to pay migrant labour just 80 per cent of the usual rate for a job in certain “shortage occupations”, leader Keir Starmer announced on Wednesday.
The Labour leader, speaking at the weekly prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, accused the government of having lost control of immigration, ahead of new figures on Thursday which are expected to show another surge increase in net migration into the UK.
He challenged prime minister Rishi Sunak to “get serious about wages in Britain and get serious about skills and training”, arguing that skills shortages were the reason for the government issuing so many visas.
Employers can currently pay just 80 per cent of the usual wage for certain industries on the “shortage occupation list”, including social care, healthcare, engineering, IT and architecture, although this must still be higher than the minimum wage.
Starmer said Labour would in government be the “party of working people”, saying: “Labour would fix the apprenticeship levy, fill the skills gap and stop businesses recruiting from abroad if they do not pay properly.”
Labour cited the example of civil engineers who can be recruited from abroad for just £28,000 a year compared to the going rate of £34,000 a year for domestic appointments.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent group which advises ministers on immigration policy, has urged the government to scrap the 20 per cent discount on the basis that it creates a “perverse” incentive for employers to recruit from overseas.
Suella Braverman, home secretary, submitted a similar proposal to ministers earlier this year but the policy was rejected after pushback from the Treasury about its economic impact.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said it was a “perfectly sensible” proposal which would not make a major difference to migration numbers, with the possible exception of social care.
“This will, of course, mean higher pay for care workers which will require funding either from taxpayers or those paying for care,” he said.
Sunak is grappling with how to fulfil the Tory party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to cut overall immigration. This week he announced that the government would restrict foreign students, apart from those studying PhDs, from bringing in dependants.
Sunak said the spike in net migration had been influenced by “unique” circumstances including letting in people for “humanitarian reasons”, a reference to schemes to accept refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
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