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Government advisory to continue to target migrants in key worker roles despite their ‘essential’ role during Covid-19 pandemic

THE head of a committee advising ministers on the new immigration system said today that proposals to shut the door on many key workers should not change in light of the pandemic.

But care-workers’ union Unison condemned the remarks, saying they betrayed little understanding of the sector’s requirements.

Migration advisory committee (MAC) chairman Brian Bell told MPs that plans to remove immigration routes for low-paid foreign workers should not be changed despite many of those roles having been recognised as “essential” during the Covid-19 crisis.  

Giving evidence to a home-affairs select committee on the Immigration Bill today morning, Mr Bell said that the government should stick to its plans given the current “uncertainty” in the labour market and economy.

The Kings’ College economics professor was confirmed chairman of the MAC, an independent body that gives advice to the government on immigration, earlier this week. 

The committee has been given the job of reviewing the Home Office’s new immigration system, which is intended to come into effect on January 1 2021, when free movement ends.

The new system seeks to introduce a points-based system along with minimum-salary requirements. The plans have been widely condemned by industries, trade unions and politicians. 

When pressed on how the social-care sector, which has a workforce made up of 17 per cent of non-British staff, would fill huge shortages under the new system, Mr Bell suggested vacancies could be filled by the growing number of unemployed Britons. 

But Unison condemned the chairman’s comments, saying that rising unemployment “won’t magically fill up gaps.”

“Sadly these remarks indicate little understanding of the significant skills needed to deliver quality care,” the union’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said. “The pandemic has shown care may be low-paid but it’s anything but low-skilled.

“This is no time to stop migrant care staff from coming here, especially with a likely second spike looming. Without them, the sector would have collapsed long ago.”

Care England chief executive Martin Green warned again today that the new legislation will severely hit the sector and urged the government to take the “valuable contribution of overseas nationals” into account when planning the future immigration system. 

Labour MP Diane Abbott told Mr Bell today that she was “disappointed” that he was “sticking to the line that your salary level is a signifier of the value of your role to society.” 

Mr Bell dismissed the remarks, responding: “That is not what I believe. I believe salaries are a signifier of skill.”


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