UPDATE: Visas and employment in the garment manufacturing sector

UPDATE: Visas and employment in the garment manufacturing sector

By Rafaella de Freitas, Policy Research Assistant, Fashion Roundtable. Originally published by Fashion Capital

Last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion organised a meeting to discuss visas and employment in the garment manufacturing sector. Fashion Roundtable, which provides the secretariat for the Group, also launched a survey to collect data and insights from the garment manufacturing sector, which closes on the 6th of September.

We’ve since seen a change in government, with Boris Johnson winning the Tory leadership race, and thus a potential change to the post-Brexit immigration system, which remains unclear. The new PM commissioned a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) analysing the Australian points-based visa system, but has also suggested that the UK would be keeping their current Tier system by promising a fast-track process for the Exceptional Talent (Tier 1) visas.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been urged to increase the salary threshold to £36,700 in a report written by The Centre for Social Justice, under claim of protecting low-earning UK citizens. The think tank recognised that certain sectors could be exempt, such as the NHS.

However, there are arguments that stricter immigration does not help protect the more vulnerable, and depriving a sector from growing because of lack of talent reduces jobs available, for both UK and foreign citizens. According to the data collected so far, more than half of respondents think Brexit will contribute to an increase in machinist vacancies, which is worrying considering that respondents have cited up to 30 machinist vacancies.

The garment manufacturing sector holds huge growth potential, and the consensus is that access to talent is the most significant factor holding back growth. In the meeting, Kate Hills CEO and Founder of Make it British, noted that garment manufacturing has been the only manufacturing sector to show positive growth in the past year. 

More than a third of the respondents claimed that their businesses are not producing at capacity, indicating room for growth. However, around 8 out of 10 respondents think that the UK does not have sufficient skills to recruit from. The question becomes where to recruit from, as training a skilled machinist and setting up training centres takes years to show results. A short-term solution is to draw on the pool of talented and eager EEA citizens. 

More than 80% of respondents employ 0 non-EEA workers as machinists- a potential reason being a lack of access to working visas. If EEA movement were to be restricted post-Brexit, there is a potential that the vacancies will not be filled by EEA citizens and remain empty.

As well as the salary threshold, the General Work (Tier 2) visa has a skill threshold, currently at RQF 6 (degree-level). Currently, machinists are considered to be low-skilled - which shows a lack of understanding from government. None of the people surveyed considered machinists to be low skilled, 81% thought they classify as high skilled and the rest as medium-skilled. There is a clear discrepancy between what policy makers and industry, which is why this data is so important. 

It is clear that current immigration policies to not recognise the value and features of the garment manufacturing sector, and for the sector to maintain its recent growth, they need to be considered.

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