Northern Ireland needs more power over immigration, says Farry

Alliance Brexit spokesperson Stephen Farry MLA has said Northern Ireland should be given additional powers over immigration, after a major report said EU workers coming to the UK should be given no preference for visas after Brexit.

Dr Farry was speaking after a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The former Employment and Learning Minister said the report went some way to debunking the myths around immigration.

“Immigration is good for all of the UK, including Northern Ireland. It enriches our society, with immigrants helping our economy to be competitive and maintaining the quality of our public services. The scaremongering around immigration over recent years has been self-defeating,” he said.

“However, today’s report is insufficient to address the skills needs of the future UK economy and in particular Northern Ireland. This region has a greater need for labour across a wider range of skill levels. Large elements of manufacturing, hospitality and the agri-food sectors already have a considerable dependency upon migrant labour, including low skills. UK salary thresholds around skilled labour are also set at levels reflecting the needs of the economy of London and the greater south-east of England, and don’t reflect what are the competitive salary levels in Northern Ireland where skills gaps exist.

“The local labour market is different from the rest of the UK, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t address our needs. We need the local ability to vary policy, including the ability for recruitment to continue across all skill levels and the ability to set salary thresholds in line with the local market.

“The local recruitment challenges cannot yet be fully addressed through investment in skills and closing the productivity gaps. Northern Ireland is already starting from a lower structural base in terms of economic inactivity. It takes time for reforms to work their way through into effective change, and Northern Ireland has fallen further behind in many areas through the political deadlock of the past two years.

“These different needs have already been articulated by a range of local governmental and business voices, including in the joint letter from the then First Minister and deputy First Minister in August 2016. However, the MAC report rejects more localised solutions for the devolved regions. This is disappointing and needs to be challenged.”

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