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Immigration plans would encourage bad bosses to exploit migrants, critics warn

6 Sep 2017 By Hayley Kirton

Leaked Home Office proposals include curbing low-skilled EU migration and more stringent right to work checks

Critics have slammed the government’s leaked immigration proposals for creating an ‘underground economy’ where bad bosses could exploit migrants and good employers would be undercut.

Last night, the Guardian published a draft document from the Home Office, covering the government’s immigration proposals.

Although a government spokesperson told the newspaper it would not be commenting on the leaked draft, measures in the paper include: driving down the number of low-skilled EU migrants by offering them a maximum residency of just two years, while those in high-skilled occupations could be granted permits for three to five years; giving preference in the jobs market to resident workers; and more stringent right to work checks to be carried out by employers.

“This leak should offer a reminder to employers that hire workers from inside the EU that they must respond now to the prospect of migration restrictions or face the consequences of recruitment difficulties in the future,” said Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD.

Describing the plans as “back of an envelope”, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, warned: “These plans would create an underground economy, encouraging bad bosses to exploit migrants and undercut decent employers offering good jobs. The government must crack down on bad jobs and make sure work is fairer for everyone.”

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, added: “It is clear that the UK needs an immigration system that provides control while also enabling employers to access the foreign workers they need at all levels – whether it be short-term seasonal workers, intra-company transfers or permanent positions. All parties should insist on clear and simple immigration rules that everyone can understand, as well as meeting the needs of the UK economy.”

A report published in June by the CIPD and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research revealed that more than a third (35 per cent) of employers in traditionally lower-paying sectors, such as food manufacturing, hospitality and care, had found themselves with no option but to turn to EU27 nationals after being unable to find UK workers willing to take on low or no-skill roles.

“Some unskilled or low-skilled employers have no alternative than to recruit EU migrant labour because of the unattractiveness of certain roles or sectors to UK nationals and the tightness of the UK labour market in some regions of the UK,” said Davies. “However, we also recognise that some employers also need to take a closer look at their reward, recruitment and people development strategies to ensure they are doing all they can to attract and develop British workers.”

Referring to the right to work check proposals, Nevin said: “Businesses are not the border agency. The Home Office is not ‘taking back control’ if it expects employers to do the immigration checks for them.”

In July, home secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a comprehensive review into EU migration. The final report is not due until September 2018 – just months before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last month revealed that net migration – the difference between between immigration and emigration – had dropped to +246,000 in the year to March 2017, down 81,000 compared with the year before and the lowest it has been since March 2014. The fall was largely down to a sharp decrease in net migration from EU citizens, which was down by 51,000.

Meanwhile, a CIPD survey published in February found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of employers had noticed evidence of EU27 staff members planning to leave their organisation, or the UK entirely, this year.

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