Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, December 13, 2022
Migrants should be given a special visa that obliges them to live in rural areas for five years to combat depopulation and replenish ageing communities, say Government advisers.
The Government’s migration advisory committee (MAC) has recommended ministers should trial a rural visa under which migrants would be tempted to move to more remote areas for at least five years through a relaxation of UK entry rules.
They could be encouraged to come through lower skills requirements and reductions in the UK entry fees which average £2,500 upfront on top of the healthcare surcharge of £624 a year.
In its annual report, published on Tuesday, the MAC said the proposal would fit in with the Government’s levelling up agenda by bringing in workers to boost the economy of rural areas.
It could also help tackle shortages in lower-skilled agricultural jobs, some of which are currently plugged by the foreign seasonal workers’ scheme, and in local hospitality such as bar staff, waiters and cleaners.
“We believe it is in the interest of the UK Government to pilot and evaluate a rural visa targeted at areas facing depopulation and that such a pilot would align with the Government’s commitment to level up all parts of the UK,” said the MAC, which advises ministers on migration.
Reduced fees and relaxed entry requirements
Scotland, which is projected to see a significant decline in its rural population, has already proposed such a scheme but the MAC said any pilot would be “of interest to rural communities across the UK.”
The Scottish Government has proposed restrictions on migrants taking up any visa that would require them to stick with one employer for the first year and remain in a community pilot area for a further four years, after which they would be free to move to anywhere in the UK.
The MAC said there was a risk tying a migrant to a specific employer for a year could lead to exploitation and recommended instead its proposal of reduced fees and relaxed entry requirements for skills.
However, the MAC backed requiring migrants on any new rural visas to remain in their chosen geographical areas until they had won the right to settle in the UK after five years in the UK.
“It’s absolutely crucial that we allow all the rules of settlement to apply, which means that when you have indefinite leave to remain, you can move to wherever you want in the UK. It would be an absolute disaster if we had a policy that said a settlement is also related to where you live,” said MAC chairman Professor Brian Bell.
Integrated settlement support services
A similar scheme in Canada to attract migrants to remote and rural areas along its Atlantic coast succeeded in retaining 94 per cent of them in the first year. Key to the success was a package of integrated settlement support services for newcomers.
Professor Bell said the Government should also consider easing work restrictions on asylum seekers that prevent them from taking employment before 12 months in the UK and limits the type of job. In some rural areas, this could also help plug rural skills gaps.
He said he was “deeply disappointed” that the Government had failed to respond to proposals for care workers to be guaranteed a salary of £1 above the national living wage, which stands at £9.50p an hour to help plug 100,000 job shortages. He said he was “bewildered” by the health department’s lack of urgency to adopt it.
Professor Bell also urged the Government to avoid knee-jerk reactions to net migration hitting a post-war record high of 504,000, which he said was due to schemes such as those for Ukrainians and Hong Kongers as well as the economically beneficial influx of students, most of whom would leave.
However, he backed the Government reviewing the right of postgraduate students to bring dependents, saying there were anomalies such as a single year masters student being able to bring a relative but not an undergraduate.