The UK’s new immigration rules will restrict access for migrants to fill critical labour shortages, a meat industry trade body has warned.

The UK government – in an attempt to tackle record net migration figures – has introduced new rules that mean from spring 2024 incoming workers will need to earn at least £38,700 ($48,737) a year, nearly 50% higher than the current minimum salary of £26,200.

However, the British Meat Processors Association, which has complained about labour shortages since Brexit restricted the ability to bring in workers from the EU, argues the new rules “restrict access for migrants to fill critical labour shortages whilst liberalising access where no vacancies exist”.

CEO Nick Allen said: “The government is in danger of imposing blanket rules to achieve arbitrary migration targets without considering the very different labour requirements and challenges of different industries.

“Using an average salary threshold figure of £38,700 fails to take into account that the average is made up of both higher and lower salaries and it’s often in the lower bracket that worker shortages are most acute.

“If companies have to start paying migrant workers more than the ‘going rate’ for a particular job simply to achieve the threshold and fill a vacancy, this will very quickly spark wage inflation across many industries as existing UK workers demand the same salary. In the case of the food industry, this will fuel more food price inflation.”

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Allen added: “We agree that allowing migrant workers to be paid 20% less than the ‘going rate’ for a job is unfair but raising the overall salary threshold for immigration isn’t the way to tackle this issue. Nor will it fix the problem of not enough British citizens being willing, available or able to fill these vacancies.”

If the UK government restricts the number of migrants that can come to the country to fill the job vacancies that can’t be filled with British candidates, there will be inevitable pressure on all sectors, the BMPA chief executive said.

The association supports the sector-by-sector and job-by-job approach to assessing workforce needs recently advocated by Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee.

“It makes much more sense for our industry where the current blanket approach isn’t working,” Allen said.

Also critical of the UK government’s new approach to migrant workers is former Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he urged the government to move away from a “failed” skills-based migration policy.

He said: “Isn’t the problem with a skills-based immigration policy that it gives preferential access to bankers, to lawyers, to accountants, to economists even though we have no need for such people in this country, we have plenty here, homegrown talent, but it actually makes it very difficult to recruit the people we do need – care workers, people who work in the food industry, in manufacturing, producing things generally or indeed in the tourism industry.”

Just Food asked the UK Home Office to respond to the BMPA’s criticism but, instead, a spokesperson referred us back to the press release of the announcement of the new immigration rules.

The BMPA, which represents some of the largest companies working in the country’s meat industry, argued back in July that the cost of finding staff is contributing to UK inflation.

It backed calls for the government to allow in more migrant workers made in an independent review into labour issues impacting the English food industry.