The next prime minister should lower the salary threshold for migrant workers from £30,000 to £20,000 to avoid skills shortages, a coalition of business and education bodies has said.
The group, which includes the British Retail Consortium, business advocacy group London First and Universities UK, has written to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt urging them to commit to clear action on reforming the immigration system should they secure the top job.
As well as lowering the salary threshold, they want the Government to extend the temporary work route for overseas workers from one year to two years and revise the sponsorship model to make it easier for firms of all sizes to bring in the overseas talent they need.
They are also calling for the reinstatement of the two-year post-study visa for international students to work in the UK after graduation.
The joint letter by the #FullStrength campaign says: “Our country needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps it open to all levels of talent that our economy and local services sorely need.
“It is crucial that this system recognises the benefits of international talent whilst ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively, necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.
“Without the ability to access international talent, many of our world-class sectors are at significant risk.
“As the UK prepares to leave the EU in the near future, it is imperative that the Government puts in place measures that will avoid employers facing a cliff-edge in recruitment, and works towards building a successful economy that is open and attractive.”
In December, a White Paper set out the Government’s vision for the most significant shake-up of the immigration regime for more than 40 years, that would apply following the post-Brexit implementation period which ends in December 2020.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended existing minimum salary thresholds should be kept in the next immigration system, which includes paying experienced workers at least £30,000.
Last month, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he had asked the MAC to review and advise on salary thresholds before the changes come into force from 2021.
The coalition warned that more than 60% of all jobs in the UK fall under the £30,000 salary threshold, with around 30% of manufacturing jobs and 23.2% of retail jobs sitting in the £20,000-£30,000 bracket.
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive at London First, said: “It is vital that the Government does all it can to keep the country at full strength at a time of great uncertainty. The thousands of businesses we represent are clear that without a bold move now on immigration reform, the skills shortages many companies face risk becoming even more acute.”
During the Tory leadership race, Mr Hunt said he wanted to review the £30,000 salary minimum, while Mr Johnson proposed an Australian-style points-based immigration system.