UK – The UK government’s recent announcement to increase the salary threshold for overseas workers from US$32,974 to US$48,830 will have a significant impact on the meat-processing sector and the wider food industry.

The new rules, set to take effect in spring 2024, eliminate the Migration Advisory Committee’s list of shortage occupations, where employees could be paid 80% of the old £26,200 minimum threshold.

The meat industry had lobbied unsuccessfully for meat factory butchers to be included on this list.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), expressed concerns about the new rules.

“While the current industry staffing is sufficient, the rotation of overseas staff over time could increase wage costs for skilled labor and pull up overall factory wage costs,” he noted.

“The main concern in the industry currently revolves around a shortage of veterinarians, crucial for abattoirs to operate successfully.”

The UK government introduced these changes in response to record immigration figures in 2022. The new measures aim to reduce immigration by 300,000 annually, impacting industries heavily reliant on overseas workers.

The UK meat industry, already facing challenges since Brexit, is now grappling with these stricter immigration rules.

The BMPA contends that these rules may hinder access to critical labor, causing wage inflation and food price increases, especially if companies must pay migrant workers more than the going rate for specific jobs.

Additionally, the government’s new approach to migrant workers has faced criticism from various quarters.

The BMPA suggests a sector-by-sector and job-by-job approach to assessing workforce needs, echoing a recommendation from Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee.

Former Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice has also criticized the skills-based immigration policy, arguing that it gives preferential access to certain professions while making it difficult to recruit essential workers in areas like care, food industry, manufacturing, and tourism.

The BMPA has consistently called for the government to allow more migrant workers, emphasizing the impact of labor shortages on the industry and contributing to overall inflation in the UK.

As the government implements these changes, there are concerns about the broader implications for various sectors and the potential economic repercussions, including rising wages and inflation.