Is Coronavirus Giving the UK a Preview of Brexit?

22.04.2020 - London, UK - Giovanni Succhielli

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Is Coronavirus Giving the UK a Preview of Brexit?

What will the UK look like after Brexit?

This was the question in mid-January when the government set out a new points-based system to regulate immigration from 1 January 2021. The government’s intention was to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy” once the transition period is over.

The new model, supposedly based on the Australian system, introduced a 70-point threshold to obtain a work visa.

A person will need a job offer from an approved sponsor (20 pts), a job at an appropriate skill level (20 pts) and to speak English at a required level (10 pts). The remaining 20 points to apply to work in the UK will have to be found among the following options:

  • salary of £23,040 – £25,599 (10 pts)
  • salary of £25,600 or above (20 pts)
  • job in a designated shortage occupation (20 pts)
  • PhD in subject relevant to job (10 pts)
  • PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job (20 pts)

The industry leaders described the consequences of such rules as catastrophic for the UK’s economy, while business groups as well as unions claimed the country would soon face staff shortages. In a country where the unemployment rate is as low as 3.7%, the role of low-skilled workers is vital to businesses like hospitality and the farming industry.

The coronavirus outbreak offers an opportunity to get an idea of what the UK could look like very soon.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is calling on people to take up jobs on farms to save this year’s harvest, as it estimates that 75% of the 60,000 seasonal labourers who come to the UK to work on farms every year “might be unable to enter the UK” due to the current traveling restrictions. CLA – which represents more than 30,000 landowners and rural firms in the United Kingdom – also said that those restrictions and absences due to sickness “could leave a shortage of up to 80,000 agricultural workers”.

The National Farmers’ Union has expressed similar concerns.

The Environment Secretary George Eustice has encouraged the “British workforce to fill the gap”, evoking a Leave campaign’s idea that this would be enough.

However, this certainly seems not to enough. In fact, over the past weeks several farms have been chartering planes to bring in labour from Eastern Europe, especially from Romania. These are workers who could not be able to get a work visa once the UK leaves the EU.

In fact, only three months ago, unveiling the new rules to work in the UK, the government stated: “We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.”

It seems not everything is going according to plan.

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