Sustaining the island’s workforce
Deputy Rob Prow, president of the Committee for Home Affairs, explains the work behind the States vote on population and immigration last week and what it will mean for the island in the future.
Last week, the States Assembly overwhelmingly supported the Committee for Home Affairs’ Population & Immigration Policy Review policy letter. This marked a very important step on the island’s journey towards ensuring the makeup of our population can meet our future needs.
The debate followed a year’s worth of work that reviewed key areas of the Population Management (Guernsey) Law, 2016, as well as immigration policy and legislation, while also considering the more strategic matter of sustaining the island’s population and workforce in the long term.
Our committee was delighted that the work of the team behind these proposals received praise from all corners of the Assembly for the high-quality data and analysis of the challenges, which followed extensive consultation and engagement with political committees and the business community.
The review was conducted in the context of significant short-, medium- and long-term challenges facing the island, with businesses struggling to recruit the workers they need now, alongside the future ageing of the island’s population leading to a decline in the local workforce.
These challenges are not easily resolved, and throughout the work of the review the Committee for Home Affairs was supported by members of a cross-committee steering group, which is an example of how this States is tackling the major issues this term, discussed at length the various ways in which they may be addressed.
A declining workforce through an ageing population could be alleviated in part through increasing economic participation in the existing working-age population, or through increasing the island’s economic productivity. This was a subject discussed at length during the States debate and I believe that both of these things should be encouraged where possible, however the scale of the problem facing the island means that bolder action is needed, instead of relying on drawing more out of a workforce that is already highly productive and participatory, particularly when compared with similar jurisdictions or the UK.
Other suggestions included encouraging our young people to remain in the island. While there is unlikely to be anyone who disagrees with this objective, even if every young person currently living in the island decided to stay, we would still be facing a significant decline in workers over the next 30 years as the ageing population takes effect.
It is on this basis that the review acknowledged the importance of increasing economic participation and productivity, but proposed an assumption of net migration up to an average level of plus 300 per year, over the next 30 years, to stabilise the island’s workforce against the natural ageing of the population, recognising that increased participation and productivity alone will not be sufficient. Our committee is pleased the States acknowledged this challenge, the evidence-based work we oversaw, and agreed this new strategic population objective.
However, instead of automatically and directly leading to population growth, the agreement of an net migration assumption is intended to allow the island to plan effectively for the long term in respect of housing and utilities, investment in infrastructure, public services, and maintaining fiscal balance.
In this sense, the States’ agreement of the net migration assumption, borne out of the detailed research, will not lead to an immediate population increase, but provides a roadmap so that government can plan for and address housing challenges, human capital upskilling, and developing infrastructure. These issues will, like the Population and Immigration Policy Review, require cross-committee working with colleagues from the Committees for Economic Development, Environment & Infrastructure and Education, Sport & Culture taking the lead under their respective mandates.
One thing I want to be absolutely clear on is that the proposed 300 figure is an assumption, and is not a target, cap, nor ambition of the States.
It is a fact that the vast majority of relocators to Guernsey are economically active – data held by the States of Guernsey suggests that roughly 85 of every 100 migrants are of working age, with those disproportionately centred in the younger age groups of 20-40.
Increased net migration therefore supports the objective of attracting young people to the island.
The island does not only need the necessary housing and infrastructure to support and attract increased migration, but also the population and immigration controls to achieve it.
Amending the population management and immigration regimes to enable businesses to recruit the workers they need, both in the short and long term, was one of the key objectives of the review.
The outcomes and proposals of this work, which the States supported, will enable the island’s employers to recruit to any job listed in the Employment Permit Policy, from any country in the world, expanding the pool of prospective employees from only the UK, Common Travel Area (CTA), or EU, as is the case currently to the global workforce.
In order to achieve this, and to uphold our responsibilities as a member of the CTA, some other changes to employment permits will now take place, which includes the removal of five-year Medium-Term Employment Permits (MTEPs) completely.
As the vast majority of job types attracting MTEPs will going forward be eligible for eight-year Long-Term Employment Permits, which grant a pathway to established residency in the island, this change will provide a further boost to businesses in their efforts to recruit and retain staff and plan for the long-term.
Teachers and many finance roles, like accountants, are just two examples of job types that received five-year MTEPs, but will receive eight-year LTEPs going forward.
These changes are intended to provide immediate relief to businesses in the island who are struggling to recruit the workers they need, while ensuring Guernsey remains a responsible member of the CTA.