Colleagues, before we continue to take oral evidence, could we turn our mobiles phones off? I think only one went off this morning. I have checked mine. Representations have been made to me about tea and coffee. Unfortunately, until the Panel of Chairs, under the excellent chairmanship of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, changes its view, I am afraid only water is allowed—and we are not even in lent.
We will now hear oral evidence from Universities UK, the Trades Union Congress and the Royal College of Nursing. We have until 3 o’clock to take evidence from these good people. Would the witnesses kindly introduce themselves?
I thank all three of you for coming today. I will start with the TUC, although I will probably bring all of you in later down the road. What in the BillQ 109 do you see as a threat to social security or as increasing the potential for exploitation?
The TUC is very concerned that the Bill opens up a wide scope for increased exploitation and insecurity among not only European Union citizens in this country, but UK citizens abroad. To focus on the first part of your question, we are worried that the legislation, by removing EU rules on social security co-ordination, paves the way for the Government to bring in plans to restrict EU social security entitlements for EU citizens, such as jobseeker’s allowance.
We have also seen in the White Paper plans to bring in an immigration health surcharge on EU citizens. From a welfare point of view, we are very concerned that that will mean 3.8 million citizens facing increased poverty and having to pay health charges. The TUC absolutely opposes the immigration health surcharge both for EU citizens and for all migrant workers.
Also, in the context of the Brexit negotiations, it seems reckless to suggest that we will introduce restrictions on EU citizens claiming social security entitlements here in the future when we know that more than 1 million British people live in the EU, many of whom now claim pensions, or will do soon. It is expected that EU countries may well reciprocate, with restrictions on British citizens abroad claiming sickness insurance and unemployment insurance and on claiming their pensions abroad, which is obviously a huge injustice. People have paid all their lives in one country and expect to be able to claim in another. We are very worried about the increasing social insecurity and the welfare repercussions for British people abroad.
On the second half of your question, on exploitation, we have said that the Bill will not only make life harder for EU citizens and workers in this country, but have the effect of making conditions worse for all workers. We say that because, by ending EU rules on free movement, and the right to change employers freely that comes with that, the Bill also paves the way for a more restrictive work visa regime, as the Government outlined in the immigration White Paper. What we have seen of those proposals is a recipe for increasing worker vulnerability.
We know that time-limited visas of the kind the Government have said they want to introduce—specifically the 12-month time-limited visa for low-skilled workers—would increase worker vulnerability exponentially by limiting people’s legal status in a country to their employment. If workers have a limited time to move from one employer to another, we know that will be an incentive for them to stay in abusive forms of employment, because of the difficulty of getting another legal form of employment.
If workers leave an abusive employer and cannot find another, legal form of employment, they become undocumented workers and, under the terms of the Immigration Act 2016, they are committing a criminal offence by working. That means that if they are then abused in an undocumented form of employment and go to the authorities, they could face a jail term and deportation as a result of reporting abuse.
We at the TUC are absolutely opposed to those measures, because they just encourage exploitation. As I said, they make it easier for bad employers to use irregular migrants or those with question marks about their immigration status, who accept lower conditions and undercut UK workers on terms and conditions and on pay. We already see that happening in agriculture, distribution and some sections of cleaning and care. The Bill will make it easier for that exploitation to happen, which is why we are calling on MPs to oppose it.
Q What protections are needed to make sure that the Government’s proposed seasonal agricultural workers scheme and temporary 12-month work visas do not lead to exploitation?
The TUC has said that the Government should scrap all the proposals in the Bill and that we should instead continue to have the current system in place for EU workers to come here, work freely and have all the legal protections in place. For any temporary visa migration system, as I said, time-limited visas bring the inherent risks that workers will face further exploitation because their condition of employment is linked to their legal status in the country.
An important change that would mean that all workers were less at risk of exploitation would be to make sure that workers, regardless of immigration status, could enforce their employment rights. That is in line with the International Labour Organisation’s recommendations. Employment rights are human rights—it is not a crime to work and it should not be a crime to try to claim your right at work. An important step would be to roll back the provisions in the Immigration Act 2016 that criminalise undocumented working. As I said, we have grave concerns about the introduction of any temporary visa scheme for EU citizens, because it would just increase exploitation and make it easier for bad employers to commit undercutting.
Q The next question probably applies, in different parts, to all three of you. What experience do you have with the current system for non-EU migrants, and what do you make of the Government’s proposals? I would particularly like for Universities UK and the Royal College of Nursing to comment on the current tier 2 route, and for the TUC to comment on the proposed 12-month temporary visas.
Perhaps I could start with a comment on the tier 2 route? For a long period, we have had some concerns about the way that the visa regime is working for universities for non-EU nationals, particularly the compliance system, the burdens of the compliance system and the overall effect on the attractiveness of the UK as a place to come and work. The extension of that regime to European economic area nationals raises some significant challenges because of the dependence of universities on EEA workers in some areas; because of the really rather significant increase in the compliance burden that could result—although I understand that there may be opportunities to think about how that can be reduced—and because of the impact of the proposed salary threshold on universities’ ability to recruit in some occupations where it has historically been quite difficult to fill roles with UK-domiciled workers.
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
We would add to that. We think that we, as a country, are dependent on nurses coming from overseas, so we are absolutely dependent on overseas workers. We know that the impact of the threshold would damage our profession if it were applied to it, because its emphasis is on “Agenda for Change”. The £30,000 is an arbitrary figure and we do not understand where it has come from. Most skilled nurses that come into the country from overseas are not getting that.
We know that there have been some exemptions, but the whole process is arbitrary and we think that it would impact negatively on the workforce on which we are highly reliant. The nursing workforce are one of the major planks that this Government are using to fill shortages in the nursing profession, particularly in social care. It is highly important that the unintended consequences do not apply to the profession, because otherwise we will not have the people to care for our patients.
The TUC is very concerned about the impact of the £30,000 threshold. We are concerned about it now—it applies to non-EU workers—and applying it to EU workers would have a devastating impact on many sectors. The Government estimate that 80% of EU workers would fall below the threshold. It is not only nursing and other parts of the health service, but distribution, hospitality and many parts of industry, that are heavily dependent on EU workers. There would be a really negative impact on those workers if that threshold was introduced.
The TUC is saying that, in the long term, there needs to be action on pay so that more workers receive a better settlement. The Migration Advisory Committee has suggested that this threshold would be an incentive to improve pay, but unfortunately that is not what we have seen. The pay cap has been in place for seven years, and we are only just moving out of that. The TUC is still calling for a fully funded settlement to ensure that workers are decently paid and that their wages keep up where they have fallen behind for the last seven years. We have not yet seen that.
Unfortunately, there are not enough employers in the private sector paying workers decently, so many million workers are still in insecure contracts and are not being paid a living wage. We want action on pay alongside action to ensure that the workers we need now to fill the critical shortages that Donna has talked about can come in. We need not to have the £30,000 threshold, and we need serious action on pay in the public sector and key parts of the private sector to ensure that everybody is treated decently and that migrant workers and UK workers receive decent pay for their work.
Professor Kinnair, the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee gave evidence to us this morning, and he said that he did not feel that immigration should be used to deal with staff shortages. He argued that we should be paying people significantly higher wages. Is it not true that the RCN should be lobbying for nurses’ pay, rather than trying to keep wages down by promoting immigration to fill the gapsQ ?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
You will have seen that the RCN has been lobbying for an increase—we lobbied long and hard on “Scrap the Cap” for nurses—but we are where we are. We have a shortage of 42,000 nurses at the moment, and it is predicted that it will rise to about 100,000 in the next 10 years. Those are people who look after our patients. We are where we are.
Of course we need to increase the domestic supply of nurses, and that includes paying them appropriately. We fully support that, and we have been lobbying on that basis. However, the people who gave evidence to the Select Committee about the Government’s plans talked about three areas: international recruitment, return to practice and retention. We know that you cannot have a nursing workforce fit for the needs of the population of this country unless you increase the domestic supply. As you will have heard, we have been lobbying up and down the country. Unless we get the right staff in the right organisations, we will also seek legislation on staffing. We know that if we do not have the right number of people, care falls, and that is damaging to our patients.
In summary, we are lobbying. We do not understand the proposal about low-skilled workers, because who in nursing is a low-skilled worker? What does that mean? The 12-month visa does not allow continuity of care, because by the time someone has got to grips with the culture of this country, they are ready to go. It is also contrary to people being able to bring their dependants into the country. Many nurses have families. Are we going to split up families? Are we asking them to leave their children while they come and provide care for the UK population?
Q I have a follow-up question on that. This Bill is about ending freedom of movement for EU workers—EU nurses and midwives. The latest figures from the Nursing & Midwifery Council show that the greatest increase in the number of nurses registering with it has come from non-EU nurses—2,808—so there is clearly a group of nurses from outside the EU who want to register and work here, but it is difficult for them to do so because of the restrictions in place. Do you welcome the level playing field that would enable nurses from outside the EU to come and work in the NHS as easily as EU nurses and midwives can do currently?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
We welcome the fact that there is one system. The less complex a system is, the better it is, because people can navigate it. It has been a particular Government intention to turn to non-EU nurses, and once we knew that we were coming out of Europe, they sought to draw in nurses from outside the EU. We have concerns because we believe in ethical recruitment. We do not believe that we should be raiding countries that require their nurses, despite the risk of not increasing our domestic supply.
For the university sector this is primarily a question of access to specific sorts of skills, and competitiveness. Overall, almost a quarter of academic staff in the university sector come from outside the UK, and in some disciplines and roles the reliance is much greater. EEA nationals make up 11% of all staff in universities, and they comprise 17% of academic staff. For staff on research-only contracts, that figure is 27%. In particular subject areas the concentration of EEA nationals can be even higher, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as areas such as economics, where more than 30% of academic staff come from outside the UK.
Universities require specific skills, sometimes at relatively short notice, and the pool of talent is geographically distributed in some funny way. For example, the University of Cambridge has a world-leading strength in Arctic and Antarctic research, and it requires a pool of technicians who are able to analyse certain sorts of geological data. Quite often, those teams of individuals are deployed at relatively short notice when the climate conditions are right and boats are available, and it all comes together at the last minute. A group of individuals in Italy possess those skills, and historically Cambridge has called on them, and recruited from Italy to staff up those teams when they need those skills. That does not mean that over time we could not generate our own labour force with those specific skills, but in the short term if we moved from one regime to another, would institutions simply be unable to access the specific skillsets they need for one reason or another? Would they be less able to compete effectively and perform their research because they are constrained in that regard?
Overall, our particular concern relates to staff in technician roles, 63% of whom earn below the £30,000 threshold. That is why we propose that the Government should consider a lower threshold. We would like to suggest £21,000 as the level at which the majority of staff—particularly in those technician roles—will be able to continue to come to the UK. That would be a compromise. We also suggest that for staff whose jobs fall under the shortage occupation list there should be no salary threshold. As others have argued, a salary threshold is not a good proxy for skill level.
Q The NHS and universities were both part of the pilot for EU settled status. What feedback have you had from your members on issues with that system so far?
My concern right now is the low level of take-up of that scheme. I think the last I heard was that the Department for Education estimated that something like 20% of the staff who should have gone through that process had done that, so for us right now, there is a communication effort to make sure that staff are aware of the scheme and how to apply. There were some early glitches. There was a bit of frustration about the app in the very early days, but I think those problems were pretty swiftly resolved, and I am not aware of any significant concerns about the operation of the scheme.
IQ have a few questions, which I want to put first to the TUC representative. You talked about having a system that would allow EU citizens similar access to the UK as they enjoy now. How do you think that that would square with the referendum result in 2016, and the clear indication that people wanted to end freedom of movement?
I think you can take many things from the referendum result in 2016. What is clear is that we need working people to not suffer as a result of that referendum result. As I have outlined, the provisions of the Bill make it easier for bad employers to use one group of workers to undercut other groups of workers, at the cost of everybody’s rights. We want a Brexit deal that ultimately delivers ongoing protections for UK workers at EU levels of rights, as well as tariff-free, barrier-free trade, and that ensures that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. For us, probably the best way to achieve that at this stage would be ongoing membership of the single market and a customs union.
We want the provisions in place to make sure that we get that kind of Brexit deal. To have the deal that we think would be the best for working people, we would need to follow the rules of the single market, which needs rules that are very close to, if not approximating to, free movement.
Q My second question is to the professor. We heard evidence this morning that there is on average a lower proportion of EU workers in the NHS and the care sector than in other sectors, so do you think that ending free movement would have such a significant effect on the NHS and the care sector?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
We have a large proportion of EU workers; 10% to 11% of nursing workers are from the EU currently, and with a backdrop of 42,000 vacancies in nursing, losing any nurse is a problem, so this does have unintended consequences, but what is more, we would be quite concerned about some of the powers that the Bill gives to Ministers. What we want is somebody scrutinising the unintended consequences of the Bill.
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
It has an impact, because actually that has been one of our policy planks, hasn’t it? Instead of growing our own domestic supply, we have relied on international recruitment, so whether we are talking about people from the EU or outside the EU, anything that inhibits that will impact on our ability to deliver care to the people of this country. It has been a major plank of policy that instead of growing our domestic supply, there has been reliance on that by successive Governments, so of course there will be unintended consequences for the care we are able to deliver to meet the needs of our population.
I have two or three questions, probably mainly for the TUC. Again, they are about the £30,000 threshold. In Greater Manchester, for which I am an MP, the average salary is quite a bit below £30,000, and that will be true in a number of other parts of the country, too. We also know that younger workers and women are likely to be on lower salaries. Does the TUC have a view on whether there should be different thresholds for different industry sectors, different workers or different geographies? Perhaps Vivienne and Donna would also like to reply.Q
It is important to highlight the vulnerable groups that would be particularly negatively affected by the £30,000 threshold. Of course, women and other groups that are already marginalised are likely to become more marginalised by that threshold, and caught in it.
Regarding your question about the specific thresholds that we would want to set, as I hope my earlier question suggested, the TUC is calling for a future immigration policy that sits with an overall Brexit deal that delivers for working people. For us, that would mean a policy that does not introduce additional restrictions, but rather promotes the rights of all workers. It would have stronger domestic enforcement and stronger regulation of the labour market, which is an important point to highlight, because undercutting is taking place right now. We are well aware of that, and we feel it fuelled some of the insecurities that were taken advantage of during the Brexit referendum. However, it is about domestic labour market reforms and enforcing additional rights, rather than a differentiated migration regime.
We want to address the problems with the current regime, such as the thresholds that are limiting recruitment from outside the EU, and where there are insecurities or certain visas for non-EU workers, such as overseas domestic workers. We would not want anything that narrows down EU citizens’ ability to come into the country, because of what that would mean for overall rights and our overall prospects for a Brexit deal.
There is an argument for differentiating by occupation and by geography, but the problem is that if we introduce a system that is so nuanced, it becomes difficult to explain to people and operationalise. We are really quite concerned about the bureaucracy that will be associated with moving from a system in which, frankly, we do not have to worry about these individuals from a compliance point of view, and they do not have to worry too much about the requirements of applying for a visa, to one in which we have to explain to EU nationals what this all means and help them through the process, just as we do for non-EU nationals.
There is an argument for simplicity, which is why we decided that our position would be to suggest a lower threshold overall. However, the point you make about the potential for this system to be unintentionally discriminatory by gender is an important one. I imagine that we will come on to talk about the impact that this will have on students. One of the arguments we have made in relation to those students who want to stay and work in the UK on the tier 2 regime is that if you are in the north of England and you happen to be a woman, you quite often do not meet the minimum required salary threshold. It is not a policy that is intended to be discriminatory by gender, and you can say that it is not the Government’s fault that there continues to be a gender pay gap—it is a wider issue—but none the less, if this policy does not address that issue, that is its effect.
Q And your suggestion for addressing it is to lower the threshold.
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
We would argue that it is probably not essential to use salary as a level of determining skill. It does not really work, because nurses will be highly skilled, but £30,000 is neither here nor there. The £30,000 level features too heavily in the debate, and there are better mechanisms for determining skill.
Q What would you suggest would be more useful in identifying the roles that need to be filled? How would we measure that?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
I think that we know what we need in this country. We know that we need nurses, so it might be that we are looking for that skill, as opposed to an arbitrary salary figure.
MyQ colleague asked part of the question that I wanted to ask, regarding comments made this morning by the Migration Advisory Committee about EEA migrant workers making up a lower fraction of care assistants and NHS workers than the national average. Did you say that the percentage of nurses from the EEA is 10%?
Up to a point. Ministers have been saying for many years that there is no cap on the number of students who can come to the UK under a tier 4 visa. That is not actually the problem. The things that have been standing in our way are features of the visa system that, frankly, make us uncompetitive compared with some of the other major destinations that international students choose to study in. A visa system that, for example, restricts the opportunity for international graduates to stay and work in the UK for a little bit post-graduation is, frankly, not that appealing when you compare it with the opportunities offered by Australia, Canada and the US.
There are other things the Government could do to make the system more welcoming. There have been some really quite positive signals in what Ministers have said recently about a willingness to look at the compliance system. We hear from prospective international students that they are put off by a feeling that the immigration system treats them with suspicion from the start, so we should look at things like credibility interviews and how they operate, decision making by entry clearance officers, and some of the compliance requirements on institutions, which require them to interact with international students in a way that can be rather off-putting.
All those things should be looked at, if for no other reason than that there are huge opportunities for the UK as one of the most popular destinations for international students. We are in a hugely privileged position, and at this particular moment in our national history we have the opportunity to open our doors to people at a very early stage in the development of their professional lives, to establish strong bonds and, in many cases, to leave a lasting legacy of affection for the UK. We could do with more of that, not less.
Education is also a hugely important source of export earnings for the UK. Although international students have value far beyond their financial or economic value to the UK, it is not trivial that this is an increasingly important export sector. The Government’s figures point to quite significant growth in our export earnings from education, which are now around £19 billion a year. We should be pursuing that opportunity, rather than tripping over our own feet. The new international education strategy announced in January is a great opportunity for the Government to get their policy aligned with their international ambitions. The visa system has to be part of that. There are some modest steps in the right direction, including in the White Paper, but we really think the Government should go a bit further than that.
On that theme, I think I am right in saying there are around 450,000 international students in the UK. What proportion of those are from the EUQ ?
There are 442,000 students from all around the world, and just less than a third of those are from the EU. As a proportion of our total student population, that is around 6%. It is a source of significant concern that that enormous pool of talent will find it a bit more difficult to come to the UK after our departure from the European Union.
Q Vice-chancellors I have talked to across the sector suggest that universities might be planning to lose up to 80% of EU students. Is that a figure that strikes a chord with you?
It is hard to predict. We can see a certain pattern in the response by EU students to previous changes in the UK. For example, with the increase in the fee from £3,000 to just over £9,000, you saw the numbers of EU students decline, and they took quite a while to bounce back. That indicates that there is a certain price sensitivity among EU students. They also have a huge amount of choice in relatively close geographic terms in Europe—other high-quality destinations that they could choose over the UK if we seem to make it difficult for them to come.
My long-term prediction, which is not shared by all our university vice-chancellor members, is that because the UK remains a first or second-choice destination for students who are globally mobile in many countries around the world, over time, we will work back to a position where we are still a very attractive destination for EU students. My real concern is what happens in the short to medium term, where we go from being very attractive, and it is very easy to come to the UK, to putting in place higher barriers in the form of a new visa regime. We could see a significant decrease as a result of that, at least in the short to medium term.
The fundamentals are strong, however. We have a high-quality system, and we offer something that is valuable in the long term. That is what we have to work to communicate to international audiences.
Q May I return to the question of academic staff? I asked vice-chancellors in Sheffield how many early career academics could not be here if they were subject to the non-EEA immigration rules. They said that something like 600 would have no right to be in the country under that regime. Does that reflect the picture across the country?
To take one group as an example, if you look at staff who are on research-only contracts, 27% are from the European Union. About 8% of them earn less than £30,000. It is not a huge proportion—those are probably people who are very early in their research careers—but it would none the less be a loss to the UK, if you imagine that those people might otherwise have stayed and made their careers with us. Although numerically it may not seem a significant proportion compared with technicians where the proportion is 63%, it should still be a matter of concern.
The other thing, which is perhaps not a matter for this Committee, is that we do well in competitive grant competitions—for example, in competitions for European Research Council funds. I think more than half those awardees are not actually from the UK, but are European nationals who have decided either to bring their grant to the UK or apply from the UK for that grant. If we lost those individuals—if they decided to apply for those same grants from a German or French institution—it would diminish our research base. So it is not necessarily just a matter of the numbers of individuals who might not be able to get visas. There is a knock-on effect that is quite difficult to predict.
There has been a great deal of comment about the inclusion of students in the net migration statistics. Does Universities UK have any evidence to illustrate the impact of overseas students on healthcare provision, public transport and that kind of thingQ ?
We have done a bit of analysis as Universities UK on the economic impact of international students. The headline figure is that those students contribute about £29 billion to the UK economy through various mechanisms and create 200,000 jobs—I will write to the Committee with the figures, because I am concerned that I will misquote them.
They have a significant effect not only directly on institutions but on the many parts of the UK economy that they touch, such as taxi drivers, corner shops, bars and restaurants. The university sector is distributed right across the UK. There is almost no part of the UK that does not have a university in some geographical proximity. If you think of it as an industry, it is not one that is concentrated in London and the south-east.
I was in Paisley recently and I went to visit the University of the West of Scotland. I got off the train and the thing that pottered through my mind was, “Why on earth would you not want international students coming to Paisley, spending money in the local economy, enjoying Scotland, going and spending money on the west coast—all the things that those individuals can do in terms of attracting their friends and family to come and spend some time with them?” I think there is really good reason to think that this is not just special pleading for universities; these are attractive individuals for a much broader range of reasons.
ProfessorQ Kinnair, to begin with, this morning we heard from Migration Watch and I asked them what they thought the consequences might be of restricting immigration to this country in the way that they say they have ambitions to achieve, and what that would do to our labour market and the dependency ratio, which is the ratio between the number of people working and the number of retired people. The response was that, of course, the retirement age would need to rise in line with their proposals.
Professor Kinnair, could you just give us what you think the view would be from the nursing profession if the Government, in response to the policy choices we are making now, were required to raise the retirement age to, say, 70?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
I will just put in that 11% of our registered nurse workforce in the UK are non-EEA nationals and 5% are EEA nationals. So that is a combination of about 90,000 to 120,000 nurses.
On the impact of raising the retirement age for nurses, nursing is a very physically demanding job. There is an anticipation—people are already talking about this, but I suspect we will have nurses on zimmer frames pushing patients on zimmer frames if we continue to carry on in this manner. Nursing is a very physically demanding job and you also have to be mentally on the ball to give the drugs and the care; it is quite a high-pressured environment. So it sounds very easy—“Let’s just raise the retirement age”—but people physically need to have the stamina to be able to deliver the care to patients, whether it is in their homes or in hospitals.
My view, and I have written about this, is that raising the retirement age is something we do with great caution for the nursing community. One plank is bringing back people who are retired to fill the gaps we currently have, but that can only suffice for a small percentage, because nurses, too, are subject to the long-term conditions and all the other things that the general population is prone to.
I think this just underlines the lunacy of a policy that is about making life harder for the people living here—the workers living here—by suggesting there are additional burdens that they will have to bear, such as working longer hours, or there is the suggestion that we are always presented with, “Oh, why don’t local people want to be the ones living in caravans, five of them living in a caravan, going to pick strawberries from 5 am?” I wonder why people are not attracted to that.
As for the suggestion that there should be more burden on UK workers to do more undesirable work, working in worse conditions, rather than having an immigration policy that supports a joined-up economic and industrial strategy—that strategy is really, to us, what we need and the approach that we need to take. Anything else is essentially pitting worker against worker, saying, “UK workers should pick up the slack and we don’t want the non-EU workers”—or the EU workers now—“to come here.” To us, that is continuing the hostile environment.
What we actually need is a policy that promotes good jobs and good conditions for all workers, and a route to get the workers that we need from outside the country, when there are shortages. However, to build on the discussion earlier, the TUC is calling loudly for there to be an increase in training and in funding for that training. The cutting of the nursing bursaries and also bursaries to other allied health professions has had a really serious cost on the number of workers being trained for those professions. There is a shortfall of about 5,000 people taking up training places for nursing, and in education it has also had a big impact. In sectors such as agriculture, where employers say they face shortages, we are having no increase in funding for skills and apprenticeship training. The onus is also on employers to increase the amount of training.
This all suggests that immigration policy cannot be considered in a vacuum. It needs to be connected with a skills policy, which unions are very keen to be involved in. You are probably aware of Unionlearn. Trade unions are involved with a number of employers across the country delivering courses for thousands of people and developing those skills, but it is not happening enough. Further restrictions on migration are just a form of economic self-harm and will impact on UK workers worse and increase the anxieties that they already have.
I want to pick up on the point just made by RosaQ Crawford about UK citizens not wanting to do undesirable work and the need for migrants to do it. Do you think that sort of rhetoric is appropriate—that certain types of job are not good for UK citizens and we need other people from elsewhere to come in and do them? Do you not think that creates a perception that dirty, tough and difficult jobs are for other people and not for us? I say this as an immigrant myself.
We have always said as a union movement that we stand for workers from all countries. We do not believe any workers should be working in degrading or exploitative conditions. That is why I say it is very important that the law allows workers from all countries, regardless of immigration status, to claim those employment rights.
Unfortunately, we have seen the deregulation of the labour market. In agriculture, the example we have been talking about, there used to be an Agricultural Wages Board that provided a floor level of conditions and pay in that sector. That was abolished under the coalition Government and Unite, the union that represents workers in the agricultural sector, has said since that has been abolished, there has been a proliferation of precarious contracts, illegal forms of contract, people in very exploitative conditions, people not receiving the pay they should, and people often not being paid the minimum wage in certain cases.
That form of labour market regulation, the Agricultural Wages Board, is just one example of how the removal of domestic employment protection results in more exploitation and an increase in the number of migrant workers employed in that sector. We know migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to taking up those forms of employment, or ending up in them, often because they need to secure an income quickly, because they have paid money to come to this country. Unfortunately, precarious jobs are the most likely type of job they are going to get, because those are the sectors of the economy that are expanding.
On average, if you arrive in this country needing a job quickly, you are probably going to end up on a zero hours or temporary contract or in a job with an illegal contract. Unfortunately, migrant workers are particularly likely to work in that sector. We have said that is absolutely unacceptable. We want good conditions in those sectors, for the migrant workers who come and the UK workers who are here already. If you improve conditions and pay, restore things such as wages councils, not just in the agriculture sector, but across the private sector, in hotels where—
Q I am going to stop you because you are not answering the question that I asked. I hear you on the discussion on labour market regulation, but that is something completely different. It was about the rhetoric which you just used, and perhaps you did not hear yourself when you said it. I am going to assume that you did not quite mean what you said, that undesirable jobs are for people outside this country.
Under the proposal in the White Paper, the UK will move to a system where every single migrant entering as a student or under the skilled route from any country will need to be sponsored. There have been concerns about this will raise an additional burden on businesses, universities, the NHS, schools and charities. What are your views on thisQ ?
Perhaps I can start. The cost of managing the compliance requirements for non-EEA students and staff for universities is about £66 million a year—a huge cost. I want to make it clear that universities are one of the biggest users of the immigration system and there has never been any suggestion from us that they should not be responsible for working to make sure that the visa system is not abused, but the cost is huge.
If we increase the number of individuals coming through that sort of system by adding EEA workers to the group of people that universities have to manage through the compliance system, the cost will increase, at least in proportion, unless something has changed. We have got a piece of work going on at the moment about estimating the cost of compliance to improve on that £66 million figure. When we have got the results of that, I am quite happy to write to the Committee with a sense of what we think the cost might be.
As I understand it, there is an opportunity now to try and refine the compliance system to make it easier for those sponsors to discharge their responsibilities without it being a massively burdensome and costly exercise, but also make it more appealing for people who are coming into the UK and experiencing it from the other side. I would like to add that the Home Office has said repeatedly that universities are highly compliant. There is a genuine desire to make sure the system is not abused, so I hope we can get to a position where it is a little bit lighter touch.
MsQ Stern, may I ask you first about the £30,000 threshold? In particular, let me take technicians, who you mentioned earlier, as an example. When Professor Manning or the MAC are challenged on this, they will say it is not just a £30,000 threshold, because you have this new starter salary of £20,800. Why does that not help answer the problems that you would have in attracting technicians?
This is about the criteria you have to meet to have access to the lower threshold. The individuals I mentioned—the population of technicians whose salaries generally fall below the £30,000—would not qualify for the lower threshold level, which would apply, for example, to international graduates who were staying on in the UK for some time post graduation. There is probably a group in the middle who would qualify under those criteria for the lower threshold, but it will not address the bulk of the problem, where we have a large population of workers who would not qualify and yet will not make the £30,000 threshold.
Q Thank you. You mentioned concern with the low take-up in relation to the settled status scheme. Do you worry about the implications of that if staff members do not make the deadline put in place by the Government and would you support any moves to scrap that deadline or make the system a declaratory one?
We have not called for the deadline to be extended or scrapped. We feel that there is time for us to get the message out that these individuals need to apply for settled status and we are certainly working on that front.
Our bigger concern is about the possible difficulties created by the no-deal Brexit scenario and by the regime that the Government have set out for an interim arrangement, between the point of a no-deal Brexit and the implementation of the new immigration system, which is currently being consulted on. There is a very significant concern about the time limits that will apply to those individuals who, having arrived in the UK after
It is that inability to say with certainty “Don’t worry, you come, you’ve got a status that will see you through this programme, you can stay to the end” that is tripping people up. Also, we need to be able to say to people “This is a registration scheme. It is not something you apply for and maybe you get and maybe you don’t.” If you have arrived in the UK, and you have started a programme—maybe a Scottish programme that lasts four years—you need to know that you are not going to be kicked out halfway through. If the Government could give some attention to that, we would be grateful. It’s not that we don’t appreciate that three years is longer than the period that would be covered by the withdrawal agreement—we do—but it is a kink and it could be ironed out.
May I add a concern that we have about the settled status programme from those who have already been through the process? Some people are finding that they do not have sufficient evidence from their national insurance records to prove that they have had five years’ continuous residence in the country. Rather than settled status, they are receiving pre-settled status. The Government said that the intention is for pre-settled status to lead to indefinite leave to remain, but it is not a legally watertight guarantee, and we know from the Windrush scandal that any time there is a question mark over immigration status, it can, in the hands of the wrong employer, be used as a means to threaten or dismiss workers.
That is already a problem in the university and health sectors, and now we know that the third phase of the pilot is being rolled out across the economy. As I said, in many parts of the private sector, in distribution and hospitality, people often do not receive any employment contracts at all, so they struggle to provide evidence that they have five years of continuous residence. We worry that they might fall into a legal limbo in which they are unable to demonstrate their legal status, and potentially cannot claim their employment rights and are subject to further exploitation. We want that entire scheme looked at, and for the burden of proof to be taken away from the worker having to prove their five years’ continuous residence, in a more all-encompassing process.
Professor Kinnair, going back to the issue of the £30,000 threshold, I remember your “Scrap the cap” campaign very well, which I and many colleagues supported. You have done a great deal of work trying to raise nurses’ salaries, and I would be fully in favour of that. Is not the reality that at the moment there are 90,000 to 120,000 nurses from overseas in our NHS?Q
Yes, collectively. But if there was ever a measure that restricted the number of nurses coming from overseas, such as the £30,000 threshold, clearly that would have a detrimental effect on the NHS. It is as simple as that.
Q Professor Kinnair, I have a question on shortage occupation lists and the removal of doctors and nurses from the tier 2 cap. Notwithstanding the £30,000 threshold, do you see the shortage occupation list and a lower salary threshold as a potential solution to that?
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair:
I think it possibly would be a solution to that; I think you are right. But we have “Agenda for Change” for a reason: so that we have a national approach to salaries. Why would we then treat people coming in from overseas differently? We know that our salaries are not high enough to live on in this country. Why would we be starting to think that it is okay to lower it to £20,000, £18,000 or some arbitrary sum that people cannot live on in this country?
Q I have a question for Vivienne. We know that last year the number of applications from international students rose by 9%. I want to clarify your comment that EU students have a lot of choice. We will agree on that. They can go all over the continent for their university education. The phrase you used was, “We seem to make it difficult for them to come”. But we have free movement, so is that us—the Government—making it difficult for them, or is it the universities?
What I am suggesting is that should EEA nationals find themselves in a system such as the one that currently applies to non-EU nationals, we would be making it less attractive compared with the many other high-quality destinations they could choose within Europe, where there would not be such a visa hurdle.
The White Paper proposals are really welcome. It is great that the Government have acknowledged that we need to create more generous post-study work opportunities, and not only for Masters and PhD students—as recommended by the MAC—but for undergraduates. It does not quite achieve what we suggested needed to be achieved. I may betray my age by saying that this is a Cuprinol test question. When you are a student and thinking, “Do I go to the US, or maybe Australia or the UK”, we believe you ought to look at the visa regimes—
Order. I really am sorry; we needed a lot more time. On behalf of the Committee, I thank our three witnesses. We are very grateful for the evidence you have presented to us today.