Most employers in the UK are unaware of proposed changes to immigration rules that could make it more difficult to source lower-skilled workers after Brexit, a new report has found.
The CIPD report surveyed 2,182 employers, and found 58 per cent of businesses had no knowledge of the government’s plans to introduce a new skills-based migration system after the UK leaves the EU, which were outlined in a 170-page whitepaper published in December 2018.
Only 7 per cent of respondents claimed to know ‘a lot’ about the plans, which outline what visa arrangements will be in place when the UK fully leaves the EU. Just over a third (35 per cent) said they knew ‘a little’ about the new system.
The survey found 56 per cent of employers also said they didn’t have enough information to start making decisions about their post-Brexit recruitment strategy, with only a quarter (27 per cent) happy to make decisions based on the existing information.
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Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser for the CIPD, said many employers seemed daunted and alarmed by the range of restrictions planned and the costs they were likely to incur.
"Even if they can access the talent they need, there are concerns they may not be able to afford it. In response, the planned introduction of migration restrictions must be phased in to offset the risk of a labour supply shock and avoid harming UK competitiveness,” said Davies.
He added it seemed inevitable the rate of EU citizens coming into the UK would fall after the proposed system came into force in 2021, pending a transition period should a Brexit deal be agreed.
Davies suggested that with so few employers ready, a “safety buffer” was needed to give more time to adjust. “We need a set of workable policies that apply across all sectors that are simple, low-cost, fair and user-friendly for both employers and non-UK citizens,” he said.
The main proposals of the whitepaper include a system allowing individuals into the country if they meet certain criteria on skills and qualifications and fulfil a minimum salary threshold, expected to be set at £30,000. Certain exemptions to the salary requirements are expected to be confirmed.
The arrangements would apply to all EU and non-EU migrants. The system would be supplemented by a “temporary workers scheme” allowing lower-skilled workers from certain countries into the UK on a temporary short-term visa.
However, the CIPD survey found more than half (51 per cent) of employers thought the planned 12-month temporary visa was either ‘not very useful’ or ‘not useful at all’, with just 28 per cent believing it would help meet recruitment needs.
Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), warned a fall in migration could mean some sectors face serious staffing shortages. “The feedback from recruiters is that we are heading towards crisis point, particularly in health and social care, hospitality and food and drink,” he said.
“The CIPD’s report is an important call to government to listen to what businesses are saying about the difficulty in accessing skills and filling vacancies… Our immigration system needs to be managed, but it must also be open, helping businesses to grow and create jobs for a prosperous future,” Hadley added.
But Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, said it was understandable that employers were not looking at the future, instead taking a ‘right here, right now’ mentality. “If employers don't know what's happening now, then they aren’t going to be planning for the future,” she said.
“A lot of the CIPD report talks about retaining the talent we have already got, and EU employees can apply for settled status so they can potentially avoid new immigration rules in the future. But most are not looking that far ahead,” Kaur said.
Kate Nichols, chief executive of the UK Hospitality employer body, said she believed employers in the sector were broadly aware of the changes ahead, but were likely to feel unprepared because they feared the situation was subject to further disruption.
“We don’t have UK-born workers waiting in the wings to replace foreign nationals,” Nichols told People Management. “Currently, EU nationals make up one in eight of our workforce. We know some stay for long periods and some are transient, but one year is simply not long enough to be able to attract people for a viable career.”
The CIPD report makes a number of recommendations to avoid the worst-case scenarios when the UK does leave the EU. These include extending the Youth Mobility Scheme for 18-30-year-olds to cover all EU citizens, allowing individuals to come to the UK for a maximum of two years without a job offer.
It also suggests looking at specific occupations with skills shortages that can be exempted from any future salary cap.
The CIPD’s findings on the whitepaper will be submitted to the government as part of a 12-month consultation into its effects.