The number of migrants from south Asian countries including India who started work in the UK increased 30 per cent last year as businesses began looking beyond the EU for talent – at least in sectors such as healthcare and IT.
The number of migrants from the region – which includes India, Pakistan and the Philippines – who registered for national insurance (NI) numbers reached 68,381 in the year to December 2018, up from 53,594 over the same period in 2017.
India alone saw a 43 per cent increase in the number of registrations, to more than 45,000, making it the third largest source of new migrants.
The figures suggest businesses are gradually beginning to adjust their talent strategies to compensate for a reduction in available skills after Brexit. However, there were still twice as many EU nationals beginning work in 2018 as non-EU nationals, and the 28,010 increase in non-EU nationals joining the workforce was dwarfed by a 78,409 fall in EU nationals.
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The number of NI registrations from EU countries fell 16 per cent over the year, with the largest drop in numbers coming from the EU8 – the group of countries including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic that joined in 2004.
Romania (which is part of the EU but not part of the EU8) and Poland remained the first and second largest sources of new labour despite seeing a drop of 13 and 26 per cent respectively. There were 134,492 new registrations from Romania, almost three times the number from Poland.
The news came at the start of a crucial week for Brexit negotiations which is expected to see any new settlement with the EU put to a House of Commons vote – followed by the possibility of parliament either accepting a no-deal Brexit or, potentially, opting to extend the process further.
Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at CIPD, said the latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions were consistent with other official data and CIPD surveys on skills shortages in the UK, and that it would be no surprise if the IT sector was driving the increase.
“You’ll see that IT is the fastest growing sector in terms of number of people employed last year, against the backdrop of already prevalent skills shortages,” he said.
Davies added that with fewer EU workers wanting to live and work in the UK, the use of the intra-company transfer scheme – part of the Tier 2 visa regime – was one way to work round the “fairly restrictive” non-EU immigration policy. This was “particularly prevalent” in IT, he said.
“Equally, we know there are acute shortages in the medical profession,” said Davies. “And again, it wouldn't be surprising to see NHS trusts being more proactive in targeting nurses and, in particular, doctors from India and try and ease somewhat the recruitment difficulties they are currently facing.”
Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, said her firm had also seen an increase in the number of intra-company transfers from Asia.
Speaking to People Management, Kaur said that while the statistics echoed last week’s National Audit Office report that showed a drop in EU migration, they were also a positive sign that despite Brexit concerns, the UK was still able to find the skills it needed elsewhere.
“[Businesses] are trying to make a conscious effort to see if they can find somebody within the UK to apply for those roles,” she said. “But if it’s not available, and EU nationals are saying they don’t want to stay for these roles any more, that doesn’t mean we’re not potentially able to pick up the skills from the rest of the world.
“I think we’re finding that although [Brexit has] stopped a lot of EU nationals coming to the UK, it hasn’t stopped the rest of the world.”
Davies added the impact of Brexit on migration statistics was easy to exaggerate. Many other EU countries, which are also competing for labour from the EU8, had seen strong growth and had relatively low unemployment rates, all of which reduced the incentive for people to leave for the UK.
“The outflow from the EU8 has been more evenly dispersed across the EU,” he said.
“While many employers will rightly be concerned about the migration restrictions that are due to be introduced that will affect EU nationals, what perhaps has not been acknowledged is the positive changes that have been suggested for recruiting non-EU nationals,” said Davies, citing plans to lower skill requirements and scrap the resident labour market test, both of which were outlined in the government’s post-Brexit immigration plan.