Hopes were raised over a proposed £30,000 a year salary cap for skilled migrant workers into the UK at the annual Abta Travel Matters conference.
Theresa May’s post-Brexit plans for a minimum salary threshold for migrants from the EU and the rest of the world – outlined in an immigration white paper in December – could impact the UK’s travel and tourism sector acutely, with many firms relying on seasonal workers.
Home secretary Sajid Javid announced on Monday (24 June) that he wants the government’s migration advisory committee to investigate lowering the prospective wage caps – which also include £20,800 for recent foreign graduates at British universities – although panellists at the conference highlighted the plans could drag on amid the current political uncertainty.
“We’re very dependent on bringing in workers,” said Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer, adding 13% of travel and tourism workers in the UK are non-UK nationals – a third higher than the UK average, with the average median salary for the sector £23,000.
“That [£30,000] is considerably low for our sector so that would eliminate a lot of potential.
“Also the white paper takes quite an academic approach, but a lot of skills in travel and tourism are life skills. It’s important we make sure we have a flexible – and I imagine reciprocal – system with the EU to make sure we can respond to the peaks and troughs in the skills we need.”
In a later session, Abta’s public affairs head Luke Petherbridge said: “We send thousands of workers each year into the EU on a temporary basis.
“We have to be able to replace the regimes we have today and in order to do that the UK migration system needs to be not so restrictive that it’s impossible to strike a deal.”
Speaking during a panel discussion later, Vicki Wolf, education manager at Abta, said: “Any kind of arrangement that we have will be reciprocal.
“Sajid Javid talked this week about re-looking at that and I really recommend they do. We want to be able to attract those people who bring diversity, language skills we need and cultural exchange within the industry.”
Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for education, added: “Sajid Javid has taken the opportunity to create some space for himself and said as far as he’s concerned that cap should go.
“Of course we don’t know who is going to be the new home secretary… I think this will remain in parliament until the new administration comes in.
“My suspicion is this won’t be finally resolved until September when parliament returns.
“The mood music at the moment on it is good, but don’t stop pushing. It’s a critical issue.”