In a blog for UK in a Changing EU, Professor Jonathan Portes draws attention to a new report from the Office of National Statistics about migrant workers in the UK labour market. While the report contains much interesting information, Professor Portes uses it to make assertions about Migration Watch proposals for immigration in the future that seem to betray a misunderstanding of what these proposals actually are.
The Migration Watch UK proposals, outlined in our briefing paper, are for the UK to apply controls to EU migration for work in the same way as we do now to non-EU migration. The core controls allow admission to the UK only for jobs that are ‘high-skilled’. For the purposes of these controls ‘high-skilled’ jobs are those falling within the following official Standard Occupational Classification groups.
The new report from the Office for National Statistics adopts the same definition of high-skilled in a graphic showing how the stock of migrant workers in the UK is distributed among different skills groups. It can be seen that for the EU8 and EU2 groups the proportions in such high-skilled work is very low. If controls similar to those in place for non-EU nationals now were applied to potential migrants from these countries in the future it is clear that a substantial reduction in inflow would likely follow.
In his blog, Professor Portes unfortunately muddles up the Migration Watch skills-based proposals with quite separate proposals by Steven Woolfe MEP that would restrict entry for work further by means of a salary threshold of £35,000.
Professor Portes gives a list of occupations where the majority of employees earn less than £35,000 thus:
“Examples of jobs that for which half or more of all employees earn less than £35,000 include physiotherapists, speech therapists, nurses, primary school teachers, most technicians, skilled construction workers, chemists, environmental scientists, social workers, paralegals, electricians, chefs, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers”
He then claims that our chairman Lord Green is deliberately attempting misdirection, on the basis that
“It may be approximately true that “80% of EU workers who have arrived in the last ten years are in low-skilled jobs” – but only if by “low-skilled” you mean the type of jobs that the majority of Britons work in, including many or most of the skilled jobs mentioned above”
and he concludes
“They’re not – just – trying to exclude agricultural labourers and coffee shop workers, but hundreds of thousands of people doing ordinary, productive, middle income, middle skilled jobs – the sort of people our economy actually needs”
Professor Portes seems to be implying that the Migration Watch proposals would exclude EU migrants in the future from the jobs that he lists and that Lord Green is misleading people about this. This would be quite incorrect. Professor Portes will know that physiotherapists, speech therapists, nurses, primary school teachers, chemists (whether he means scientists or pharmacists), environmental scientists and social workers are all classed as high-skilled and that Migration Watch proposals for the future are that permits should be available to EU migrants to carry out any such work. While the general salary limit has been raised to £30,000, for new entrants it remains at £20,800, and with special arrangements for e.g. nurses and secondary school teachers.
The other occupations he lists all fall within the ONS ‘Upper Middle’. While there is no specific mention of candlestick-makers in the official Standard Occupational Classification they are likely to fall within the Upper Middle category of “Other Skilled Trades” which includes makers of candles themselves as well as lampshades and other fancy goods. Migration Watch proposals are that for jobs which are not high-skilled, work permits should still be available if the government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee judges that they should be on the Shortage Occupation List. At present this includes such jobs as skilled chefs and pipe-welders and naturally we would expect the MAC to consider what alterations to the list might be required once free movement from the rest of the EU comes to an end, or indeed whether any changes were required to the present salary levels for any job. Whether a special need for candlestick-makers is likely to be identified remains to be seen.
The Migration Watch proposals are eminently sensible and practical. They would certainly not exclude needed teachers and nurses as these are high-skilled jobs, subject only to any ‘undercutting’ assessment by the Migration Advisory Committee and lower-skilled ‘ordinary’ jobs would rely upon their objective judgement of the situation. Regrettably, Professor Portes does not seem to have grasped the essentials of our proposals.