LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An English bishop has expressed concern that new immigration restrictions announced by the UK government could lead to an increase in human trafficking.

Britain left the European Union at the end of January, and has announced that the EU’s free movement of people will no longer apply in the UK after the end of 2020.

Under rules proposed this week, all migrants to the UK will have to speak English, have a job offer, and be earning at £25,600 (around $33,000.)

That threshold is well above the average salary for jobs routinely filled by European immigrants, such as nursing, restaurant workers, construction, and agriculture.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under fire for suggesting the 8 million UK citizens “economically inactive” will fill these roles, since that number includes students, the disabled, those looking after family, and over one million retirees.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: someone will have to do the dirty, low-paid jobs, from construction to food processing to social care. Where are these workers going to come from?” Barbara Drozdowicz, the chief executive of the East European Resource Centre, told the Guardian.

She said the new restrictions will create a black market in labor, leading to human trafficking.

“Even now, as eastern Europeans have full access to labor market, Poles and Romanians are two of five top nationalities who are reported victims of modern slavery in the UK. It is easy to imagine how increasing pressure to drive down labor costs [as the supply of low-skilled workers weakens] will translate into much more severe coercion and abuse,” she told the newspaper.

Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark, who heads the bishops’ conference migrants desk, echoed these concerns.

“The government’s planned immigration changes leave many unanswered questions about how these workers will be protected under the new system and what steps will be taken to prevent traffickers exploiting any labor shortages that arise,” he said on Feb. 21.

Lynch said the government needed to provide more details around the proposed processes for inspecting recruiters, working practices and living conditions.

This is especially true in the agricultural sector, which employs tens of thousands of seasonal European laborers.

“Traffickers will seek every opportunity to abuse new immigration policies, so the government has a responsibility to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place,” he added.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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