A UK Government policy statement issued last week, outlining new immigration plans, has sparked controversy and misunderstanding in equal measure.
Under the proposals, which are still at an early stage, an Australian-style points-based system (PBS) will be used to assess who can and cannot come into the United Kingdom to live and work from next year on.
Initial media reports sparked concern among industry bodies including the National Farmers Union for Scotland and the Scottish Seafood Association.
The suggestion that “unskilled” migration would come to a hard stop prompted fears of staffing shortages in the food production industries that are heavily reliant on foreign labour.
I have met industry representatives and am fully aware of the concerns they have.
However, the detail of what is being proposed, is very different from what is suggested by the headlines in the media.
In an article published in a national newspaper on Friday, the Secretary of State for Scotland outlined the reality, which is that companies in our fisheries and agricultural industries will still be able to access the labour they need.
The definition of “skilled” as opposed to “unskilled” workers will be changed.
Fish processors, butchers, slaughtermen and dairy workers, are just some examples of skilled workers who will be able to continue migrating to the UK and of which we have genuine shortages
For all those jobs, and many more, employers will be able to recruit workers from around the world, not just from the EU.
The new system will be less restrictive than at present in several ways.
To begin with, the minimum general salary threshold will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600.
Lower salaries than £25,600 will also be applicable where there are specific skills shortages according to ‘shortage occupation lists.’
Minimum qualifications will also be lowered from degree-level to something more equivalent to higher-grade or A-level. Equivalent and recognised vocational qualifications will also be recognised.
In future, there will be no Resident Labour Market Test and no cap either, as there is at present.
There will be other routes for workers in our important hospitality and tourism sectors. More senior roles in the industry, such as hotel and restaurant managers, are classed as skilled jobs.
In agriculture, the government has already quadrupled the Seasonal Workers Scheme – specifically for edible horticulture – from 2,500 to 10,000 in time for this year’s harvest, even before the PBS comes into effect.
This pilot scheme will continue to be assessed with a view to making more long-term arrangements as required.
Legislation has still to work its way through parliament, and will be subject to debate, scrutiny and amendment by all MPs from all parties in the Commons.
Freedom of movement is coming to an end. We will replace it with an immigration system that works for all regions and nations of the UK, attracting skills from around the world of which we have a genuine shortage.
As always, I am determined to ensure that we deliver for the key industries here in Banff and Buchan.