Boris Johnson's new immigration system spells problems for Edinburgh's economy

Business leaders warned years ago how city could grind to a halt
Boris Johnson's new immigration system ignores warnings about the impact of excluding "low skilled" workersBoris Johnson's new immigration system ignores warnings about the impact of excluding "low skilled" workers
Boris Johnson's new immigration system ignores warnings about the impact of excluding "low skilled" workers

EDINBURGH’S business leaders issued a clear warning at an early stage of the Brexit negotiations: migrant workers were a vital part of the city economy and if they were no longer able to come here, the Capital would grind to a halt.

In some hotels, up to 95 per cent of the workforce were Europeans able to work here because of freedom of movement, said Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce boss Liz McAreavey.

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Two and a half years later, the UK Government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration controls seems to have simply ignored such concerns.

And it is not just hotels, bars and restaurants which will struggle to recruit staff. Care homes, which currently rely heavily on migrant labour, will be badly hit by the new rules. The agriculture and seafood processing industries are worried. And many building workers will also find it hard to come here.

The new points-based system, supposedly based on Australia’s immigration scheme, is specifically designed to prioritise high-skilled migrants and cut the number of those classed as low-skilled despite the warnings of what this will mean.

Under the new rules, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated alike from next year. A total of 70 points will be needed for all applicants. They must all have a job offer (20 points), a role at the “appropriate skill level” (20 points) and be able to speak English (10 points).

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A minimum salary of £25,600 earns another 20 points, but you can still get those 20 points if your job is going to pay at least £20,480 and is in a sector designated as having a skills shortage - which currently includes nursing, civil engineering, psychology and classical ballet dancing.

It is not clear if or when the definition might be extended to cover tourism, hospitality, care or other crucial sectors.

Home Secretary Priti Patel argues employers should stop relying on “cheap labour” from Europe and look to recruit from the 20 per cent of the working-age population she says are economically inactive - even though the vast majority of these are retired, students, full-time carers or sick.

The new system met with almost unanimous condemnation from Scotland, where population forecasts show the economy needs more people are needed to come and work, not fewer.

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Even Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw was not happy. “Scottish Conservatives would like to see an immigration system reflecting the needs of the places that need migration most,” he said.

The SNP has long argued responsibility for immigration should be devolved to Holyrood. And only last month Nicola Sturgeon unveiled proposals for a separate Scottish visa system to tackle the country’s needs after Brexit. It would have meant migrants applying to the Scottish Government for a visa to live only in Scotland, and the Scottish Government then recommending applicants to the Home Office.

But it was immediately rejected out of hand by Boris Johnson, who refuses to consider any role for Scotland on the issue.

The likely damage the whole Brexit scenario will do to the economy is well documented. These new immigration rules look certain to cause further misery. If he continues to ignore all pleas for a rethink the Prime Minister will not only be playing into the hands of the SNP, but worse, inflicting unnecessary major damage on the economy of the Capital and all Scotland.