Sadiq Khan Warns that Plans to Cut Migration Will Trigger a Recruitment Crisis in London

Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

   Sadiq Khan is sounding the alarm, warning that the government's move to reduce legal migration could spark a "full-blown recruitment crisis" in London. This concern arises as job openings in the hospitality sector remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

In the year ending June 2023, net migration played a significant role in bolstering the UK population, contributing to an increase of 672,000. Notably, nearly half of the foreign-born population, accounting for 48%, resides in London or the south-east of England.

Last week, the government unveiled measures aimed at lowering net migration figures. This includes adjusting the "general" salary threshold for those seeking long-term work visas and for the partners of British nationals or settled individuals wishing to emigrate to the UK. Both thresholds are set to increase from £26,200 to £38,700.

The government is set to implement measures to impact care workers, including preventing them from bringing dependants to the UK. Additionally, the immigration health surcharge, allowing access to the NHS, is slated to rise by 66%, increasing from £624 to £1,035 per year per migrant.

While ministers have not published an economic impact assessment on the British economy, the Greater London Authority's analysis suggests significant understaffing in key London sectors contributing billions to the exchequer.

In London's hospitality, healthcare, arts, and construction sectors, where 46% of the 1 million workers are non-UK nationals, nearly half a million individuals could be affected by the proposed changes. Higher health fees will apply to all unless they have secured indefinite leave to remain (ILR). Many non-nationals earning below the revised skilled worker threshold of £38,700 may risk losing the right to remain in the UK.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, in office since 2016, has criticized the government's policies as "misguided." He argues that the failure to train the domestic workforce adequately may result in many London businesses facing a shortage of staff in the years ahead.

Khan emphasized the vital contribution of immigrants to London's status as the greatest city globally, working alongside trained Brits in various sectors. He pointed out that migrants play a crucial role in the economy and public services, from care homes and restaurants to the arts and creative industries.

Expressing concern over potential consequences, Khan stressed the need for more efforts to train British workers with the right skills. He warned that the government's immigration policies could lead to a significant recruitment crisis, adversely impacting public services and the economy not only in London but throughout the UK.

According to analysis, over half (58%) of London's hospitality workforce consists of non-UK citizens. Changes such as raising the salary threshold, increasing the health surcharge for NHS access, and making it challenging for UK nationals to bring non-UK spouses to the country are expected to affect around 250,000 hospitality workers in London. This could pose difficulties in filling positions for chefs and restaurant staff.

In September, there were 24,185 new online job postings for the top 10 roles in the hospitality sector, marking a significant increase from 15,490 in January 2019.

London's arts, recreation, and entertainment sector reportedly employs nearly 40,000 non-UK nationals, constituting almost 40% of the workforce. Many of these workers earn below the revised £38,700 threshold, with a median salary in this sector standing just below £24,000. As of September, there were 12,925 online job postings for the top 10 roles in the creative industries in the capital.

Non-UK workers make up over two-fifths of jobs in health and social care. While care workers and senior care workers are exempt from the salary threshold increase, other changes are expected to impact about 200,000 people in that sector in London.

The ban on care workers bringing dependants into the UK is anticipated to particularly affect these workers. Despite this, the number of online postings for key health and social care roles remains high at 11,334, close to 2018 levels. The changes in immigration policies are likely to have far-reaching effects on various sectors and their workforce dynamics.

Approximately 40% of employees in the construction industry are non-UK nationals, and the proposed changes to visa salary thresholds are expected to affect around 60,000 workers. In September, there were 6,246 online job advertisements for the top 10 roles in construction, following a recent decline in the number of EU nationals in the sector.

The Home Office stated that the government's analysis of the economic impact of these new policies would be made public. However, it emphasized that immigration should not be seen as an alternative for employers to improve pay and conditions for the resident workforce.

A spokesperson from the Home Office mentioned, “We continue to face unprecedented levels of immigration since the pandemic, which is why the prime minister and home secretary have announced a plan to slash migration levels, curb abuse of the system and deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration.” The government's objective is to reduce overall migration levels while addressing concerns about the abuse of the immigration system.