Industry leaders blast Government’s post-Brexit immigration stance

A leaked Government whitepaper detailing its post-Brexit immigration policy, has sparked criticism from a number of industry leaders.

The Home Office documents, which were leaked to The Guardian, proposed that free movement would end in March 2019, with low skilled workers feeling the brunt of the policy, giving them a maximum of two years residency. The plan includes ending free movement of labour immediately and adding restrictions that attempt to deter all but highly-skilled EU workers from entering the UK.

Employers have warned that the policy would be “catastrophic” for some industries, especially those reliant on migrants, leading to labour shortages and damage to the economy. Currently, around 2.2million European Union nationals work in Britain, making up seven per cent of the workforce.

According to a GMB study of Office for National Statistics figures, EU workers account for more than 20% of the labour force in at least 18 specialist sectors. However, Britain’s stance to European workers has already had an effect on employment figures, with a 1.1% drop in the number of workers from eight eastern European countries in the three months to June, compared to the same period a year ago, according to ONS figures.

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s (REC) Chief Executive Kevin Green, who has already issued warnings regarding the state of the UK labour force post-Brexit, is hoping that the Government rethinks their strategy and considers a new immigration system. He said: “It’s important that the government talks to recruiters and employers who understand the realities of various sectors of the labour market and that policy isn’t drafted on the basis of broad terms like ‘low skilled’ and ‘high skilled’ which can be interpreted in many different ways.

“Applying the criteria used in the current visa system for non-EU workers, 60% of the whole UK workforce would be classed as ‘low skilled’ as they earn under the qualifying threshold of £30,000. Severely limiting access to such workers from the EU would mean fewer nurses, electricians and chefs – vacancies that our members say are already hard to fill.”

Industries expected to be hit hard by the realities of Brexit, includes hotels, retail and hospitality, with some 75% of waiters and 25% of chefs working in the UK coming from other EU nations. One in five employees in the accommodation and food services sector are non-UK nationals.

“If these proposals are implemented it could be catastrophic for the UK hospitality industry,” said Ufi Ibrahim, the Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association. Chief Executive of the hotel chain Travelodge, Peter Gowers, added: “Even if the hotel industry recruited virtually every person on the unemployment register there wouldn’t be enough people to fill all the roles needed in the 10 years following Brexit.”

A range of industry bodies, including the National Farmers Union, the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, the CBI, Institute of Directors, social care, and property developers, Berkeley Group have also voiced concerns about labour shortages, all of which could significantly affect the recruitment sector, and the economy.  Douglas McWilliams, the Executive Chairman of CEBR warns: “If you destroy the capacity for people to come here looking for work, then there will be a significant effect to the economy and a very big knock-on effect for the public finances.”

A government spokesperson said that the Home Office will not comment on leaked draft documents, adding that they “will be setting out our initial proposals for a new immigration system which takes back control of the UK’s borders later in the autumn.”

The REC has already produced two reports looking at the impact of Brexit on the labour market, and has drafted proposals to the Government to help recruitment post-Brexit.

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