Britain is on course to leave the European Union by 31 October.
However, Theresa May has expressed her wish that the UK should quit well before, provided her withdrawal agreement is passed.
Nonetheless, whether we leave with a deal or without one, the government has been clear that ending free movement and bringing down immigration to “sustainable levels” are its key priorities. This was laid out when it published an immigration white paper in December 2018.
Not only does this paper include plans to end the right of EU nationals to come to the UK freely, but it also makes EU nationals subject to the same rules as non-EU nationals.
That means that they will have to apply for a Tier 2 visa and meet a annual income threshold of at least £30,000. It also means that if an EU national’s married partner wants to come to the UK, they will have to apply for a spouse visa. Currently, none of these things apply.
A number of key industries in London have raised concerns that the proposed threshold will lead to job shortages, because they rely on lower-paid labour.
The accommodation and hospitality industry in London hire more than a third of its staff from EU countries. Yet more than 80 per cent of the hospitality workforce in London currently earns less than £30,000.
Having a threshold as high as the one proposed will force businesses to make one of two decisions: hiring and training up UK nationals, or increasing wages so that they can take on those from overseas.
However, many will be unable to do either of those two things, therefore placing their business operations at a severe disadvantage.
The Chartered Institute of Building acknowledges that the construction industry must do more to attract UK nationals. But it says cutting off foreign talent will hurt the sector, because as it stands, the industry cannot get all the expertise and skills it needs from the domestic market.
This becomes even more worrying when you consider that London is grappling with a chronic housing shortage. The capital needs 66,000 homes to be built per year to keep up with demand, but one in four people who construct the homes in the capital are from the EU.
So it’s going to aggravate the housing crisis if thousands of EU workers leave or are banned from coming because they don’t meet the £30,000 threshold.
There are also other unintended consequences. Bear in mind that London has a gender pay gap of more than 14 per cent. If women, on average, tend to earn less than men, the £30,000 threshold could create a situation where more female workers are forced to leave the UK than male workers, therefore exacerbating gender inequality.
Under the plans, we could also see age inequality get worse in London.
According to the Office for National Statistics, an 18 to 20-year-old typically takes home just £7.49 an hour in London. For 21 to 24-year-olds, this rises to £10.48. Unless they are earning significantly above the average wage, it’s unlikely that younger EU migrants will be able to take up a role in the UK.
Employers will probably opt to hire someone older in order to justify the higher pay, worsening age inequality in London.
It’s clear then that the proposed £30,000 salary requirement for EU migrants will damage London. It will make it harder for businesses to recruit, threatening the social fabric of the capital.
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