The Tory leadership hopefuls are facing pressure to lower the salary threshold for migrant workers from £30,000 to £20,000 to avoid skills shortages across the economy after Brexit.
A coalition of interest groups including the British Retail Consortium, London First and Universities UK have written to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to set out a series of demands as the UK moves to confirm rules governing workers from overseas.
Under the banner of a campaign they call #FullStrength, the groups also call for the next PM to back extending the temporary work route for migrant workers from one year to two years.
They want changes too to the sponsorship model to make it easier for firms of all sizes to bring in the talent they need and the reinstatement of the two-year post-study visa for international students to work in the UK after graduation.
Their intervention is a response to the government’s vision for a new immigration system – to apply following a post-Brexit implementation period – set out in a white paper at the end of last year.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) had recommended no changes to the existing minimum salary thresholds though the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has ordered a review of that specific advice.
There have been a series of warnings that businesses, such as soft fruit farms at the lower end of the pay scale to tech firms at the top, face being unable to access the staff they need if the new rules are too restrictive.
During the Tory leadership race, Mr Hunt said he wanted to review the £30,000 salary minimum, while Mr Johnson has proposed an Australian-style points-based immigration system.
The joint letter by the #FullStrength campaign said: “Our country needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps it open to all levels of talent that our economy and local services sorely need.
— London First (@London_First) July 17, 2019
“It is crucial that this system recognises the benefits of international talent whilst ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively, necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.
“Without the ability to access international talent, many of our world-class sectors are at significant risk.
“As the UK prepares to leave the EU in the near future, it is imperative that the Government puts in place measures that will avoid employers facing a cliff-edge in recruitment, and works towards building a successful economy that is open and attractive.”
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive at London First, added: “The thousands of businesses we represent are clear that without a bold move now on immigration reform, the skills shortages many companies face risk becoming even more acute.”