Devolved ministers join forces to challenge ‘restrictive’ UK immigration policy

Ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have jointly written to UK immigration minister Kevin Foster.

15 February 2022

Labour shortages across the UK are largely a result of Westminster’s “excessively restrictive” immigration system, ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have insisted.

In a letter to UK immigration minister Kevin Foster, representatives of the three devolved administrations claimed that processes for skilled workers looking to come to Britain were “inflexible, costly and bureaucratic” and had also served to “exclude many of the key workers that we need, many of whom have been crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The letter, from Scottish Europe minister, Neil Gray, Welsh social justice minister, Jane Hutt, and Northern Ireland economy minister, Gordon Lyons, states there are “severe labour and skills shortages” in all four nations of the UK.

But they claim the UK Government has failed to “work constructively” with the devolved administrations to try to tackle the problem.

Ministers from the devolved administrations have written to UK immigration minister Kevin Foster (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish politicians insisted the Home Office should “immediately reintroduce” regular four-way meetings where such issues can be discussed.

They told Mr Foster: “The UK Government has said it wants the immigration system to work for all parts of the UK.

“Without a commitment to regular and meaningful engagement with the devolved governments, this is simply not possible.”

UK ministers were also urged to “immediately review the immigration skills and health surcharges and reduce additional fees”, with Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast arguing these can be an “insurmountable barrier for both workers and employers”.

They added: “As it stands, the UK has one of the most costly immigration systems and this cannot continue if it is to be an attractive destination for global talent moving forward.”

Mr Gray, Ms Hutt and Mr Lyons repeated calls for the devolved administrations to be given a formal role in deciding which occupations there is a shortage of in their nations, in a bid to make it easier to recruit overseas workers to these posts.

“We call upon the UK Government to act urgently,” they said.

The three ministers told Mr Foster it was critical that their administrations are involved in the issue, arguing: “Migration is a cross-cutting policy area affecting many aspects of devolved competency including the economy, housing, healthcare and the delivery of local services.”

However they claimed: “Sadly in spite of our efforts, the UK Government has consistently failed to consult, collaborate, or work constructively with the devolved Governments on any changes pertaining to the immigration system.

“This is despite the severe labour and skills shortages faced across all four nations which can largely be attributed to the excessively restrictive UK immigration system.”

They added: “We are doing everything within our respective powers to ensure that the needs of businesses are met, but the action we take must be supplemented by immediate changes to the immigration system in order to quickly access the labour and skills our nations need to survive the current crisis.”

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