A vision of the U.K.’s post-Brexit immigration regime is slowly emerging, but many businesses are concerned about how they will fare under it.
After the country leaves the European Union, E.U. citizens will lose the right to come and work as they please and, seeing as they make up around 8% of the U.K. workforce, it’s understandable British businesses are keen to see a system put in place to facilitate labor migration from the continent.
The Home Office, which manages immigration to the U.K., outlined its plan for a post-Brexit immigration system earlier in the year. Among its contents is a now somewhat controversial minimum-salary threshold of £30,000. Anyone who wants to come to the country who doesn’t qualify for some other kind of visa would need to earn at least that much in order to be granted a Tier 2 visa.
There are ways around this salary threshold, for instance if a prospective worker is going for a job on the ‘shortage occupation list’ (occupations the U.K. economy is in particular need of). The Home Office has also signaled some willingness to bend the rules where needed to try and make sure there aren’t shortages of skilled labor.
Businesses employing lower-skilled workers from outside the U.K. could find it more difficult, as those workers are expected to be offered only a one-year visa, and they would have to leave for at least a year after, leading to at best a one-year-on, one-year-off employment scenario. This could make it very difficult for employers looking to retain staff with experience in their industry.
The concern about labor supply after Brexit is exacerbated by the U.K. being at record unemployment, meaning businesses have to work even harder to attract and retain talent. With businesses cut off from easily accessible E.U. labor, that struggle will only increase, as they devote time and resources to looking for workers. Small-to-medium sized businesses (SMEs) in particular will be at a disadvantage, many of them dealing for the first time with complicated migration processes to get their E.U. workers a visa.
Despite assurances from Home Secretary Sajid Javid that he wants a business-friendly immigration regime after Brexit, the white paper plan has many British businesses worried about what will happen to them when the new immigration regime is introduced. The latest research to show this comes from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and recruitment website Indeed.
According to the research, 53% of businesses with staff from outside the U.K. say they would be negatively affected by the £30k salary threshold for skilled workers, and 57% would be hit by the 12-month unskilled visa limit.
One business responding to the BCC report said: “As an SME we are under tremendous pressure and there is a small talent pool. If we and similar businesses can’t recruit from outside the U.K. the current and continuing skills gap and scarcity of good candidates means we will struggle to survive. Simple as that. It’s tough now.”
The research from the BCC and Insight also goes into specific reasons businesses are worried, and it’s not just about filling labor shortages overall. Around 20% of the respondents said that foreign language skills, in particular French, Mandarin Chinese, German and Spanish, are important for their businesses. “Our business is in language services, such as translation and interpreting,” said another respondent to the survey. “It is essential that we recruit mother-tongue linguists for most of this work and yet very few, if any, of our staff would start at £30k per year.”
Concern about foreign-language skills is not limited to companies offering language services. Another business pointed out that such skills are at the core of their business: “Our company carries out business at the E.U. level and employs staff from the E.U. for language, cultural, and other skills. Impacts on the ability to hire and retain such staff will result in a shift of some of our current turnover and employment to an E.U. sister company.”
Jane Gratton, the head of People Policy at the BCC said in a statement accompanying the release: “When businesses are unable to recruit skills and labor at a local or national level, the U.K.’s new immigration system must allow them to access non-UK workers quickly and cost effectively. The survey results reflect the extent of business concerns about future restrictions, charges and thresholds, as these will exacerbate recruitment costs and barriers.”
The Home Office has said it will continue to review its forward-looking policy, through the Migration Advisory Committee. A spokesperson from the U.K. home office said: “Our new skills-based immigration system is designed to attract the talented workers we need for the economy to prosper, while also delivering on the referendum result and bringing free movement to an end.”