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New immigration rules proposed by government will increase hiring costs for retailers and push up prices paid by consumers, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Under plans published today (19 December), low-skilled workers from EU countries will no longer have the automatic right to work in the UK after Brexit and skilled migrants seeking five-year visas will face a minimum salary requirement of £30,000.

The UK’s future skills-based immigration system whitepaper proposes scrapping the current 20,700 per year cap on the number of highly-skilled employees, such as engineers, from the EU and elsewhere, working in the UK under Tier 2 visas. Low-skilled staff, such as those working on retail shop floors and in customer service, may be able to apply for short-term visas of up to a year under the proposals.

The government plans to roll out the new rules from 2021.

“These proposals would see retailers face rising hiring costs for new staff, putting pressure on the price of goods and services for consumers,” said British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson. “Setting the main cut-off for hiring those from outside the UK at £30,000 would leave retailers and supply chains recruiting from a very small pool of labour, the vast majority of whom are already working. This threshold must be reduced. Further proposals for a temporary 12-month visa for those earning under £30,000 would embed unnecessary cost and churn into the recruitment process and undermine the work currently being done by retailers to attract and retain employees.”

Dickinson said it was “critical” the government took the opportunity to “listen to retail businesses and understand how the industry is evolving and what that means for the workforce”.

She said: “Retail’s ongoing transformation will see fewer jobs overall, but more higher-skilled roles in the future. Despite this, we will continue to rely on a proportion of lower-skilled workers to meet consumer demand. Therefore, an accessible lower-skilled route is critical to the future success of the industry and the people it serves.”