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Rishi Sunak urged not to relax immigration rules amid labour shortages

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Brexit restrictions on the free movement of labour with the European Union have caused the UK to face a shortfall of more than 300,000 workers, analysis suggests. Britain could look at relaxing rules for foreign workers to help close the skills shortage, yet a new poll of readers has found widespread opposition towards this model.

Research by from UK in the Changing Europe and the Centre for European Reform think tanks show that the lack of free movement post-Brexit is “contributing significantly” to labour shortages in lower-skilled sectors.

By June 2022 the UK had lost around 330,000 workers, equivalent to one percent of the UK workforce, affecting sectors including transport, warehousing, retail, hospitality and construction.

Co-author of the report, Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College, London, declared that the shift in migration patterns was “a feature, not a bug”. He explained: “The longer-term impact on the UK labour market will be profound.”

Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, has called for the Home Office to reform the shortage occupations list. She said: “Politicians need to be realistic about the skills we need from outside the UK. Brexit has given us control of our borders and the Government must use the appropriate levers to help struggling businesses get the people they need.”

In a poll that ran from 4.30pm on Wednesday, February 15, to 10.30am on Friday, February 17, asked readers: “Should Rishi Sunak relax immigration rules as Britain is hit by a skills shortage?”

Overall, 1,833 votes were cast with the vast majority of readers, 85 percent (1,562 people), answering “no” immigration rules should not be changed to close the skills shortage.

Whereas, 14 percent (255 people) said “yes” they should be relaxed, and a further one percent (16 people) said they did not know either way.

Hundreds of comments were left below the accompanying article as readers shared their thoughts in a lively debate.

Several readers argued against the UK relaxing immigration rules, with username doneworrying writing: “No, there should be no relaxation of immigration rules.”

Another, username nirofo said: “He shouldn’t even be considering relaxing the immigration rules…he should be strengthening them.”

Username Disgusted from….. added: “No, No, and thrice No!”

Work and pensions Secretary Mel Stride was also apprehensive about relaxing immigration rules for foreign workers. He told The House magazine this month that it was a “relatively quick and easy lever to pull” to tackle the skills shortage, but was the correct solution to the problem in the long run.

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Meanwhile, other readers suggested that the UK invested in education and training instead of relying on migrants. Username ned smith 22 commented: “Train British people to do the work.”

Similarly, username Hotdog 008 said: “Now we are out of the EU that’s exactly what we should not do. We should train our school leavers with apprenticeships.”

Username michaelfisherrrrrdrunk wrote: “What you need to do is invest in your own people and country and train people.”

And username Moya P said: “If we do indeed have a skills shortage, then we need to put more effort into our education system.”

However, a minority of readers were more open about Mr Sunak relaxing immigration to help resolve the nation’s skills shortage. Username mitch1234 said: “The UK is an aging population, it needs immigration.”

Likewise, username britishpudding said: “Whether the Brexiteers like it or not there needs to be more immigration because there aren’t enough people to fill the shortages.”

Username Greybrit said: “Yes of course we need more open borders. We need keen new workers paying taxes.”

While username skeptiker commented: “Reform of immigration rules definitely required. Not sure about relaxing.”

The Home Office said last month: “The public rightly expects us to control immigration, which is why our points-based system delivers for the whole of the UK by balancing prioritising the skills and talent the UK needs with encouraging long-term investment in the domestic workforce. We have expanded the skilled worker route to include medium-skilled jobs and it now covers 60 per cent of jobs in the economy.”

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