EU migration slowed substantially after restrictions introduced, official figures show

Experts warn the UK is ‘not attractive to everyone’ and that businesses could face further recruitment problems without more temporary immigration routes

Fewer workers from the EU are coming to the UK following the introduction of migration restrictions, recent data shows, with experts warning that the UK is “not attractive to everyone”. 

The latest immigration statistics from the Home Office have indicated that employers now source most workers from outside the EU via the Skilled Worker route (formerly Tier 2) – the main long-term work route for non-UK citizens.

In the 12 months to September 2021, the five most popular countries sending workers for skilled worker visas were India (53,295), the Philippines (8,925), Nigeria (8,646), the US (6,483) and Pakistan (3,743). 

The data also showed that two in five (42 per cent) of sponsored skilled worker visa applications were drawn from the health and social care sector, and 16 per cent were for the information and communications sector.

A high share (73 per cent) of seasonal workers (formerly part of Tier 5) were also from Ukraine, while other countries that make up most grants from this route were also from outside the EU, including Russia (1,862 or 8 per cent), Belarus (853 or 3 per cent) and Moldova (706 or 3 per cent).

Responding to the statistics, Nicola Inge, employment and skills director at Business in the Community, said while the places workers are coming from has slightly changed, the UK’s talent pool is still “full of diverse candidates”. 

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She suggested that employers ensure they have the right policies and practices in place to support those who may be facing barriers such as language or cultural differences in the workplace.

However, the figures are still masked by the pandemic so it is still too early to see the full impact of Brexit, according to Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells.

“In the post-Brexit era, businesses have found it tough to recruit workers in certain sectors such as hospitality and retail, where they were previously reliant on EU workers as the job skill level is too low for sponsorship,” she explained.

Patel added that while the UK government has wanted to attract the “brightest and best”, the decrease in migration figures to the UK suggests that the UK “isn’t attractive to everyone”.

Businesses will need to look at available resources here in the UK to see if they can fill the labour shortages gap, she advised, projecting that lobbying to the Home Office for new immigration routes to be introduced to deal with labour shortages will continue.

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, also warned that the reduction in the inflow of EU workers will be a big concern to the Bank of England because it may contribute to mounting recruitment difficulties which, together with the current surge in price inflation, may lead to a “pay-price spiral”.

“The findings reinforce the case for the immediate introduction of a temporary immigration safety valve, via a unilateral youth mobility scheme for young EU citizens, to help alleviate rising labour and skills shortages,” he said. 

Under such a scheme, Davies explained, a limited number of young EU citizens would be allowed to come to the UK in search of work without a job offer, which would appeal to the many employers who are deterred from using the immigration system because of the administrative burden.

According to the data, the number of Youth Mobility visas (which are restricted to a few countries such as Canada and Australia) in the 12 months to September 2021 was 38 per cent lower than the previous year.

Davies added that employers also needed to adopt the “full range of tactics” available to them to help recruit, develop and retain workers that go beyond just raising wages, including in apprenticeships, a larger focus on line management capability, more opportunities for existing employees to train and progress, and a wider availability of flexible working arrangements.

“We also need significant changes to skills policy, starting with reforming the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible training levy, to boost employer investment in skills development,” he said.