House of Lords committee argues for "flexible approach" to immigration and labour

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has published its report on Brexit and the Labour Market.

Findings include that increasing reliance has been placed upon the migration statistics to formulate and judge policy even though many of the available measures are "wholly inadequate" according to the authors of the report. In particular the International Passenger Survey "cannot bear the burden placed upon it".

The Government is committed in the long term to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

The committee said: "Using a strict annual numerical target runs the risk of causing disruption to businesses and the economy. Reducing net migration is likely to be best achieved by a flexible approach which can adapt to the needs of businesses and the labour market, in particular during any implementation period."

Horticulture has asked for a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme as it fears a labour shortage post-Brexit. Industry groups have met Defra and spoken to a Commons inquiry on the issue this year.

The House of Lords report includes a horticulture case study:

"Agriculture is reliant on a seasonal workforce. Around 80,000 seasonal workers are employed in horticulture and 13,000 seasonal workers in poultry. The National Farmers Union estimated the seasonal worker requirement in horticulture would increase to 95,000 by 2020.

"The West Sussex Growers Association said that without this workforce, 'it will not be possible to grow, harvest or pack many crops that are currently grown in Britain.' The Farming and Rural Issues Group South East said that filling such positions from the 'local indigenous workforce has proved to be impossible.'

"NFU's Minette Batters said there were not enough people in the country to do these jobs, citing Herefordshire as an example where there is a need for 3,500 seasonal workers but there are only 400 unemployed people in the county.

"The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme operated in the UK for 60 years until it was closed in 2014 as EU labour was thought to be sufficient to meet the needs of the sector. Representatives from the industry called for the Government to reintroduce the scheme once a new immigration regime came into force.

"The Minister for Immigration said 'there may well be situations where we need to bring people in' and gave seasonal workers in agriculture as an example, 'however, that will all be part of the settlement [with the EU].'"

An implementation period when EU workers can be employed easily is particularly important for sectors with a high turnover of staff, such as social care and nursing, the House of Lords report adds.

It will also be necessary if the Government is to achieve some of its other policy aims, such as building sufficient numbers of new homes or boosting investment in infrastructure, given the current shortages in the construction industry.

Once the Government has improved figures on the number of students who leave the UK at the end of their studies, it should no longer include students in any short-term net migration figures for public policy purposes.

In order to address the problem with the migration data the Committee recommends the Government should:

  • Use information relating to the economic activity of immigrants – such as paying tax or receiving benefits – to gain a clearer understanding of how long migrants stay in the UK.
  • Explore how information from exit checks, which have been reintroduced, can be combined with other information. This should help to address the unreliability of the International Passenger Survey (IPS).
  • Devise a better way of accounting for the departure of international students. The current approach cannot calculate, with any precision, how many students stay at the end of their degree.

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