Low-skilled labour won’t dry up post-Brexit, says government migration committee

7 Aug 2017 By Hayley Kirton

But experts warn existing measures won’t solve all problems and call for ‘sensible migration route’ for low-skill work

The flow of migrants available for low-skilled work will not dry up entirely, regardless of how dramatic Brexit is, the government’s migration committee has said.

In a briefing note accompanying the launch of a consultation into post-Brexit migration, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) summarised several policies the UK could introduce to control migration after it departs from the EU and concluded that some sort of selection policy, such as occupation, age or region, was likely to be introduced.

For example, one of the main entry routes currently available for non-European Economic Area (EEA) migrants coming to the UK for work is through a Tier 2 visa, which is available for high-skilled jobs meeting a certain salary requirement, presently £30,000. According to Labour Force Survey statistics cited in the note, only 6 per cent of EEA-born migrants currently employed in low-skilled jobs would meet the salary threshold.

However, the report also referenced a number of ways in which low-skilled workers can enter the UK, including through the family route, through Tier 5 youth mobility visas, as refugees or as students. “The flow of lower-skilled migrants would not dry up completely even in an extreme scenario where there was no explicit low-skill work route,” the report concluded.

But Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, said this view of migration overlooked issues such as fluctuating needs for labour in low-skilled occupations, and progression opportunities in the workplace.

“I definitely think the government needs to create a flexible system that provides a sensible route for low-skilled migration that is based on employer need,” said Davies. “We’re not saying all low-skilled roles in all regions of the UK shouldn’t be subject to restriction. What we are saying is that there are clearly occupations or roles that employers may have difficulty filling despite making every effort.”

Data cited in the briefing note revealed that almost half (49 per cent) of EEA migrants were in so-called low-skilled jobs in 2016, compared with 38 per cent of UK nationals and 39 per cent of migrants from outside the EEA.

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

Meanwhile, another CIPD study, published in February, found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of employers had already noticed signs that their EU27 staff were planning to leave their organisation, or the UK entirely, in 2017.

Office for National Statistics figures released in May suggested that this might already be happening, as net migration fell to by 84,000 to +248,000 in 2016. The drop was, at least in part, driven by a sharp spike in emigration from EU nationals.

It has previously been reported that the government is considering introducing special visas to plug skills gaps in certain low-skilled industries, including a ‘barista visa’ to allow young people to work for two years and a three-year 'brickie visa' for the construction industry.

Home secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the MAC to carry out a comprehensive review into EU migration to the UK last month, although the final report is not due until September 2018 – just months before Brexit in March 2019. The MAC consultation is open for feedback until 27 October.

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