The health and social care sectors may already be bearing the brunt of a Brexit-inspired plunge in interest among eastern European workers – and there may be worse to come, according to a new survey that coincides with Theresa May’s flagship speech on Britain’s post-EU future.
Internet searches from Poland for health and social care jobs fell 17 per cent after June 2016, according to GK Strategy. The statistic is particularly damning as the UK’s health sector is the most widely advertised sector in eastern Europe and is one of the most reliant on imported skills, with just under 5 per cent of staff in NHS trusts and social care groups coming from EU nations.
Overall interest in working in the UK is down across most sectors, said the survey, though construction recorded a 22 per cent rise in internet job searches over the surveyed period. Workers in Bulgaria (32 per cent), Romania (30 per cent) and Poland (20 per cent) were all recorded as being less likely to intend to move to the UK than they were before the vote to leave the EU, according to GK Strategy’s analysis, which also found that 19 per cent of Polish expats in the UK had discussed leaving the country.
Robin Grainger, co-chair of GK Strategy, said there had been no significant decrease in the number of jobs being advertised by UK employers in the three countries covered by the survey, but Brexit had introduced considerable uncertainty into the labour market.
He said: “It’s still early days, but we see this potentially growing shortfall in supply verses demand as a clear example of some of the workforce problems that are on the horizon in a post-Brexit world. Obviously, this is something employers across a variety of sectors need to keep an eye on as the situation will continue to change.”
The figures came as Theresa May delivered a widely anticipated speech outlining the government’s guiding principles for Brexit negotiations. The prime minister said she wanted to guarantee the rights of EU workers in the UK – though she stopped short of offering such a guarantee – and said the government would consider specific immigration arrangements for certain sectors, including exemptions.
Speaking at Lancaster House in London, May said: “I want this United Kingdom… to be a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead. I want us to be a truly global Britain.”
In response to fears that employment rights could be eroded after EU legislation is subsumed into British law, May emphasised that the government would protect the rights of workers “set out by European regulation and will build on them to keep pace with the changing labour market”.
The Financial Times has reported that the government is drawing up plans for a two-tier system of UK border controls for EU citizens post-Brexit. Senior government officials were quoted as anticipating a new system based on work permits and automated security checks for EU citizens travelling to Britain.
Home Office officials were also said to be working on the idea of an electronic visa-waiver scheme for EU citizens visiting Britain, to allow for pre-travel security screening.
Barbara Roche, former Labour immigration minister and chair of the Migration Matters campaign group, said that, as May has effectively ruled out a points-based system, the government is “clearly working towards a work permit scheme for highly skilled migrants.
“What worries me is whether that is going to be flexible enough to suit the needs of the market. At the moment, EU nationals might come into the UK for a low-skilled job but then pick up language skills, work towards new qualifications and progress into other more highly skilled roles, or even set up their own businesses.”