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January 29, 2020

UK fashion trade body outlines immigration priorities after Brexit

The UK Fashion and Textiles Association (UKFT) has said the manufacturing side of the industry could be impacted if it cannot continue to access the skills that migrants often bring as Britain's exit from the EU looms.

By Hannah Abdulla

The UK Fashion and Textiles Association (UKFT) has said the manufacturing side of the industry could be impacted if it cannot continue to access the skills that migrants often bring as Britain’s exit from the EU looms.

UKFT has written a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, alongside other trade groups representing thousands of firms, to offer to help shape the new immigration system to ensure it meets the needs of business.

The organisation says it believes that fair and sustainable immigration is critical for growth across the UK.

The letter says: “Recent announcements have increased optimism about how a system might work. A new two-year post-study work visa for international students, dropping the target to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” and signals that the GBP30,000 minimum salary test may change are welcome and have sent positive and important signals around the world that the UK is open for business.”

Together the business groups and trade organisations are calling for a points-based model that provides greater control, while providing access to the labour and skills needed to support the economy. This would be in addition to significant investment in training homegrown talent.

The letter outlines four key priorities:

A minimum salary threshold can work if it is set at a level that supports the economy and protects wages – It can provide confidence that migrants are not accepting wages lower than those of UK workers. This is currently achieved in the non-EU immigration system by requiring a salary that is both higher than 25% of people in the same occupation and higher than 25% of jobs across all occupations of the relevant skill level. The Migration Advisory Committee already recommends lowering the skill level to ‘A-Level’ or equivalent to secure a work visa post-Brexit. Following this tried and tested formula would mean that a worker from overseas would have to earn both more than GBP20,100 and more than 25% of people doing the same job. This would protect wages and ensure that shortages in jobs such as technicians, carpenters, translators and care-home managers can be addressed.

Flexibility for skilled workers to enter the UK through a points-based system – Salary isn’t the only way to predict somebody’s contribution, so an ability to hire people with lower salaries based on their qualifications, work experience and other attributes is welcome. This must add flexibility for businesses to hire the labour and skills they need, rather than be an additional requirement. A new unsponsored points-based route for skilled workers is particularly important for smaller businesses and should also be added. Additionally, lowering the salary threshold for shortage occupations is a principle we warmly support.

A temporary visa route that supports all sectors of the economy – Extending this unsponsored route from one to two years will encourage migrant workers to integrate into local communities while also ensuring they are more productive, rather than businesses having to constantly start over by hiring new people. Making this route available to all sectors, with a cooling-off period reduced to six months, will help companies plug vital skills and labour gaps. In-country switching to the skilled worker visa, if the eligibility criteria is subsequently met, should also be allowed.

A radically reformed sponsorship process in place for the first day of operation – The government’s ambition to radically simplify the current sponsorship system is both welcome and essential to reduce cost and complexity for firms hiring from overseas. Completing and testing these reforms before switching to the new system will help smaller companies avoid expensive legal advice. Minor adjustments to the existing non-EU visa route would be insufficient and act as a major barrier to accessing the skills needed to grow the economy.

A spokesperson for the UKFT told just-style: “The manufacturing side of the UK fashion and textile industry, which is undergoing a renaissance, will be particularly affected if it cannot continue to access the skills that migrants often bring.

“This will then, in turn, impact the wider UK fashion industry, which is looking to UK manufacturing for the speed, flexibility, and quality it can offer.

“UKFT believes that fair and sustainable immigration is critical for growth across the UK, alongside significant investment in training homegrown talent.”

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