Michael Gove has urged the Home Secretary to introduce flexible immigration rules for skilled workers after Brexit to avoid vacancies in certain industries.
The Environment Secretary claims to have called on Sajid Javid to “look flexibly in how we interpret what a skilled worker is,” and criticised the £30,000 salary threshold for immigrant workers.
Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Rural Economy Committee, Mr Gove said that assessing whether a migrant worker qualified as skilled by their salary was not appropriate for all industries.
Questioned about “significant vacancies” of approximately 30% in the fish processing sector in Scotland by the SNP’s Stewart Stevenson, Mr Gove argued that the migration advisory committee’s recommendation of the minimum earnings for a worker to be allowed to stay after Brexit would harm businesses who rely on foreign labour.
Mr Gove said: “Pitching the level at which you define a skilled worker as someone earning over £30,000 a year wasn’t actually responsive to the particular needs — not just of the fish processing sector — but the food and drink sector overall.
“One of the points that I have made to the Home Secretary and others is that we look flexibly at how we interpret what a skilled worker is in line with specific industries.”
The MP, who is tipped to stand in the next Conservative leadership contest, also called for “an open approach” to immigration when asked about seasonal workers.
He added: “I also think that the soft fruit sector, which is so important in Angus and Ayrshire, does need to have access to all the labour it needs.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene Greene asked about an immigration pilot scheme allowing the recruitment of up to 2,500 workers on six-month visas between the spring of 2019 and December 2020.
Mr Gove said: “There has been an enthusiastic take-up of places on our seasonal agricultural workers pilot and we’ve been recruiting from just beyond the EU, in places like the Ukraine and Moldova .
“The pilot at the moment is smaller then some would have wanted but I think that the enthusiastic take-up helps us to make the case for a potential expansion of numbers that come in through the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.”