Industry bodies have voiced concerns about the government’s leaked blueprint for post-Brexit immigration policy, stating that it would be ‘catastrophic’ for some industries.
A Home Office paper obtained by the Guardian outlined plans to force firms to recruit locally unless they could prove an “economic need” to employ EU citizens.
The draft paper dated 7 August, which has not been approved by ministers, contains measures designed to cut low-skilled EU immigration, and states that the government will “take a view on the economic and social needs of the country as regards EU migration”, rather than “leaving this decision entirely to those wishing to come here and employers”.
Some of the proposals outlined in the 82-page document include a suggestion that the UK could create a two-tiered visa system that would attempt to deter all but highly-skilled EU workers. Measures include:
- A cap on the number of unskilled workers from the EU
- A salary and skills threshold
- Preventing EU migrants from job-seeking in the UK
- Shorter residency permits of up to two years, ending the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants
- Placing new restrictions on EU migrants’ rights to bring in family members
Defending the proposals today, defence secretary Michael Fallon outlined that while the paper did not represent the government’s final position, it did embody its overall strategy.
“There is obviously a balance to be struck,” Fallon told BBC Breakfast. “We don’t want to shut the door… we have always welcomed to this country those who can make a contribution to our economy, to our society, people with high skills.
“On the other hand, we want British companies to do more to train up British workers, to do more to improve skills of those who leave our colleges.
“We’re not closing the door on all future immigration, but it has to be managed properly and people do expect to see the numbers coming down.”
However, industry representatives, particularly those reliant on manual or seasonal labour, have reacted with alarm at the prospect of such severe restrictions coming into force in the immediate aftermath of the UK leaving the EU.
Such limitations are likely to hit the UK’s agricultural, hospitality and manufacturing sectors hardest. Analysis by think-tank the Resolution Foundation found that EU nationals account for 31% of workers in food manufacturing, 21% in hotels, 16% in agriculture and 15% in warehouses.
In a statement Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association said if the proposals were implemented they would be “catastrophic” for the UK hospitality industry.
Ian Wright, director-general of the Food and Drink Federation, also expressed concern at the draft paper’s content: “If this does represent the government’s thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make, at all skill levels, across the food chain.”
Research by KPMG for the British Hospitality Association indicates that hospitality businesses such as hotels or restaurants need at least 60,000 new EU service workers a year to fill vacancies, with EU nationals making up 75% of waiters, 25% of chefs and 37% of housekeepers.
A mixed bag
Manufacturers’ organisation the EEF stated that while its members could work with the proposals for highly-skilled workers, the suggestions for low-skilled migrants were of “grave concern”.
“The proposals represent a mixed bag,” said Tim Thomas, the EEF’s director of employment and skills. “On the highly skilled side, the system described is one we can work with, after some changes. But, we would have grave concerns that at lower skill levels accessing EU workers will be on a completely different basis.
“The question, currently unanswered, is whether workers other than the highly-skilled, will still want to come to the UK on the basis there’s no family reunion, no pathway to ever settling here, and where their stay is limited to two years,” said Thomas.
More focussed on the final outcome
However, some industry bodies sounded more conciliatory notes. Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, stated that he was more focused on the final outcome.
“For me, the outcome must include a transition period that is near identical for businesses to now,” Mr Marshall said. “They need to be able to recruit with confidence in that transition period and they need to be able to ensure that any individual they take on during that time can stay with the business for the long term.”
The CBI’s managing director Neil Carberry also believes that businesses are waiting for clarity on the government’s final stance to managing immigration in the post-Brexit landscape.
“That means taking the initiative to guarantee those already here that they can stay, a transition period with limited changes so firms can plan ahead, and a final system for the EU that is simpler and more open than the complex work permit system run for non-EEA countries.”