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EU migrants say UK employers have been ‘very poor’ on Brexit support

29 Mar 2018 By Maggie Baska

Almost half are making plans to leave the country, People Management poll reveals, with attitudes to migration a key factor

More than a third of EU citizens working in the UK say their employer has been ‘very poor’ in answering their questions and providing support around Brexit, according to an exclusive People Management poll.

The online survey of 311 EU nationals found that 37 per cent would rate their employer at the lowest possible level for the quality of guidance on life after Brexit. Only 25 per cent said they were receiving support they would rate above average.

The poll also revealed that 86 per cent felt less welcome in the UK today than they did before the EU referendum, while 42 per cent were actively making plans to relocate outside the country.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of immigration law firm Migrate UK, said the results chimed with his own experiences. “Overall, employers are not being that helpful – but that’s not because they don’t want to be,” he said. “They just don’t know how to advise their employees, and many are not reassuring them.

“We know that EU citizens can enjoy free movement until December 2020 [the end of the transition period before the UK leaves the EU] but many employers aren’t up to speed with this.”

The government has conceded that freedom of movement will apply throughout the transition period, but aside from promising a ‘settled status’ for current EU migrants has yet to clarify what sort of immigration system it will aim for after Brexit.

Meanwhile, businesses this week told the Migration Advisory Committee that they needed an evidence-based future migration system that would prioritise genuine skills shortages.

Denise Osterwald, who manages the immigration advisory team at KPMG UK, told People Management that her business offered EU workers regular Q&A sessions and help with applying for permanent residency.

“Some companies are reluctant to say anything because the facts aren’t certain at this stage,” she said. “Employers don’t want to engage because they fear there is nothing concrete to tell employees. In our experience, this is the wrong approach.”

Permanent residency, added Osterwald, was the most practical step for EU nationals who wanted to stay in the UK in the long term. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of survey respondents had applied for residency, but 67 per cent said they planned to apply for settled status. 

But Beech warned: “If people are waiting for settled status and then citizenship, they could be in for an extremely long and uncomfortable wait.”

Uncertainty was a key concern for Bernd Dombrowsky, a German national who recruits European language speakers, most of them EU migrants, in his role as VP of sales and marketing an Kingston Technology in Surrey.

“No one can tell our candidates what the future looks like,” he said. “It makes a move to the UK unattractive. We have people moving back to their home countries – they don’t say it’s because of Brexit, but their reasons do seem to flow back to it.”

In total, 36 per cent of People Management poll respondents said they were less than likely to be living and working in the UK in three years’ time. The biggest factor in potentially leaving – cited by 63 per cent – was a change in attitude towards migrants since the referendum.

Beech agreed that this had been a particular factor in EU nationals leaving the UK in the months after the referendum, but was still in evidence today. “Many employers are still finding it difficult to recruit EU workers. Many employees are choosing to seek out a more secure future in countries like Germany and Poland.”

Read People Management's comprehensive guide to what we know (and don't know) about life after Brexit

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