Following news that the government plans to introduce a points-based policy that will tighten up the laws around immigration of ‘unskilled’ workers, H&H canvasses opinion from racing, polo and beyond on the impact it could have on the equestrian world...
A new points-based immigration policy that tightens up on “unskilled” workers has been welcomed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), but met mixed reactions from other areas of the industry.
The proposal, announced on 19 February means migrants can only enter the UK with a job offer that meets the salary threshold of £25,600. In areas of a recognised skills shortage, this will be £20,480.
Migrants must prove they can speak English, but other criteria are flexible; workers can meet the points requirement if they have high-level qualifications in a relevant subject.
Ross Hamilton, head of corporate affairs for the BHA, believes it could mean more foreign staff would be able to access some jobs in racing. He told H&H he welcomed the lowering of the threshold from £30,000, the current level for non-EU workers, as well as the fact some “racing and breeding roles are now recognised as eligible for the skilled worker route”.
Around 80% of racing staff are from Britain and Northern Ireland, 10% from European economic area countries and 8% from elsewhere (2% have no nationality declared). Racing has previously identified a shortage in skill areas including work riding.
“The BHA will, alongside the National Trainers Federation and Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, engage fully and constructively with the government,” Mr Hamilton said. “We will also engage in the process on the shortage occupation list, where we will continue our calls for the future immigration system to recognise the skilled nature of the work required to care for racehorses, and allow us access to the best international talent supporting our domestic recruitment efforts.”
Mr Hamilton cautioned that EU yard staff must apply for settled status for themselves and their families, on which more information is available on the BHA website.
The Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA), which brings in many high-level, non-EU grooms on sponsored visas, said it is working closely with the Home Office and will be assessing the impact on polo.
The HPA said the sport has long relied on foreign grooms, mainly from Argentina, as the short season makes it unattractive to many UK workers.
“It will be down to the Home Office as to how the criteria are applied to polo,” an HPA spokesman said. He added that efforts had been made to fill a potential skills gap including expanding arena polo, which helps provide work all year, as well as looking at routes to develop domestic grooms, but that changes “don’t happen overnight and fundamentally, polo is a seasonal sport”.
For the wider industry, the post-Brexit changes will mean EU nationals may not enter the UK to work on a self-employed basis. Foreign workers seeking employment as yard staff are also unlikely to meet the requirements.
British Grooms Association executive director Lucy Katan told H&H the loss of this labour could be the shake-up the sector needs, and employers will need to ensure jobs appeal to potential staff.
“There are clearly changes afoot as I would be very surprised if working as a groom would gain skilled status,” she said. “I believe we will now need to work far closer with the colleges to create a workplace attractive to young people as well as retaining those in the sector.”
Equestrian recruitment consultant Caroline Carter agreed.
“In some ways it’s a shame, but in others it forces the industry to get its act together,” she told H&H. “I think it will make people at the lower end of the scale raise their game, especially those who want to pay less than legal wages. The need for change has been long overdue.”
Employment lawyer Philip Richardson, partner at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said the news could “drastically” affect employers relying on migrant workers.
“Although the government wants businesses to recruit locally and change their recruitment model, this could be impossible as many employers struggle to secure British employees,” he told H&H.
He warned that employers could face penalties for employing migrants who enter the UK without a previous job offer or not speaking English, but that full details on rules and penalties will be published in the white paper due in March.
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