A £30,000 threshold for EU workers would be damaging for Scotland, says Hal Fish, Immigration Advice Service, in the following letter to Smallholder;

‘With the Brexit deadline now extended, and Theresa May’s Brexit deal still on the table, the proposed changes to the immigration system post-Brexit are under scrutiny. 

Outlined in the Immigration White Paper, all EU nationals in the UK will lose their freedom of movement rights after the implementation period has ended at the end of 2020. This will mean that all EU nationals looking to work in the UK will need to meet the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for work visas. 

More than two-thirds of jobs in Scotland earn less than the proposed threshold. With the proposed changes, workers will no longer be available to easily fill those needed positions.

According to the National Records of Scotland, the changes to the immigration system could see the number of migrants coming to the country plummeting by more than fifty percent over the next 20 years.

The most vulnerable locations to these changes will be the rural areas of Scotland. These regions are dominated by smaller businesses who cannot afford to offer higher salaries and are far less likely to have jobs that meet the £30,000 threshold. As it stands, 49.5 percent of jobs in East Renfrewshire earn less than £30,000, and in Na h Eileanan Siar that figure falls to just 16 percent. In remote rural areas the average salary is £27,000.

With salaries that fail to meet the threshold being so common, fewer EU workers will be able to migrate to those areas. Consequently, the talent pool of workers available for employment in each region will diminish significantly. A cap as high as the one proposed will serve to deter people from rural areas and incentivise them towards the cities.

Agriculture is an area likely to be affected by Brexit as the UK sector is strongly dependent on EU migrants. The new pilot scheme to bring 2,500 seasonal workers to UK farms does look somewhat positive.

The pilot will mean fruit and vegetable farmers are able to employ migrant workers for seasonal work for up to six months. 2,500 workers from outside the EU will be able to come to the UK each year, with the hope of alleviating labour shortages during peak production periods. However, whilst this looks like a welcome step in the right direction, the touted figure of 2,500 workers is far too low.

The parliament paper ‘Brexit: agriculture' (released to the public in 2017) states that, out of the 80,000 seasonal workforce in horticulture alone, 98 percent are migrants from elsewhere in the EU. Furthermore, the British Egg Industry Council has provided evidence that approximately 40 percent of staff on egg farms and approximately 50 percent of staff in egg packing centres are EU migrants. 

Therefore 2,500 seasonal workers would not be enough to fill the jobs left in the wake of Brexit.

The threshold is also likely to create a greater gender disparity in Scotland. A report by the Scottish Government found two in three women in each Scottish council area do not earn £30,000. Even in the occupations they dominate, most do not even make £25,000. The unrealistic salary demand will lead to fewer migrant women finding work in the UK. It seems quite possible the threshold would exacerbate gender inequality in Scotland consequently.

A similar outcome may occur with the age gap. Most people who are earning more than £30,000 are in their thirties and forties, including non-EU migrant workers, whereas only 25 percent of people aged 22-29 are able to take home the touted threshold figure. It’s suspected that Brexit may cause younger migrants to return home as they will see no clear route to settlement and cannot rely on the welfare state if they need it'.

Hal Fish is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers who assist with Work Visa and Sponsor Licence advice and applications.