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Businesses in the North have expressed concern about the new immigration rules. Liam McBurney/PA
Northern Ireland

'No one wants a bar full of vending machines': NI businesses say new UK immigration system will cause labour shortage

Business groups across the UK have also criticised the points-based immigration system.

NORTHERN IRELAND’S HOSPITALITY sector has called changes to the UK’s immigration system as a “body blow”. 

Colin Neil, the Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme that the new post-Brexit points-based immigration system would severely hit Northern Ireland in particular. 

“This is a body blow. It will cripple the growth of our sector,” Neil said. 

“Northern Ireland has the lowest unemployment rate for a generation. We have a low birth rate. We do not have the physical bodies here. We’re seeing a drain of EU nationals,” he said. 

A policy statement outlining plans for a new points-based system after freedom of movement ends said the economy needs to move away from a reliance on “cheap labour from Europe”.

“Nobody wants to walk into one of our Irish bars and it’s just a row of vending machines or a burger drops to your plate from somewhere. We need people. That’s the bottom line. And if we don’t get them, our industry will not only not grow,” Neil said. 


The changes are designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year but aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get UK visas.

EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally with criminal background checks carried out on everyone coming to the UK – affecting applications of anyone who has been given a prison sentence of 12 months or more.

People who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.

Points will be awarded for key requirements like being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.

“Top priority” will be given to those with “the highest skills and the greatest talents”, like scientists, engineers and academics – who may not need a job offer to be allowed in.

Neil was critical of the approach of the UK government and said it would leave Northern Irish businesses short of staff.  

The new rules were also criticised by politicians in the North. 

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the new rules were a “fundamental threat” to the North’s economy. 

“The salary threshold ignores the reality of regional median salaries across key industries including retail, agriculture and hospitality. This isn’t about cheap labour, it’s about recognising and meeting the needs of our unique and distinct economic circumstances,” Eastwood said. 

With reporting from Press Association

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