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Need for workforce planning goes ‘from amber to red’ as net migration slows

16 Jul 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Official figures reveal thousands of EU citizens left the UK last year

Experts are calling on employers to urgently consider their future workforce requirements, after official figures revealed net migration had slowed down, with EU citizens leaving the country in their thousands. 

Although the figures published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed around 282,000 more people came to the UK than left in 2017, net migration has fallen from the record highs seen in 2015. 

And, while net migration from the other 27 EU countries to the UK remained positive at around 101,000 people, the number of people immigrating to the country from the bloc dropped by 9,000 to 240,000 and the number of people emigrating shot up by 23,000 to 139,000.

“Falling net migration is particularly bad news for employers at the moment given the tightening labour market, which will exercise a closer grip on some employers’ ability to get any suitable candidates for the job, let alone the best one,” said Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, ahead of the official data release. 

Davies noted there was a “real risk” businesses could face skills shortages if they were unable to attract staff from overseas, adding: “The need for employers to undertake a thorough workforce planning exercise needs to shift from amber to red.”

Meanwhile, Tej Parikh, senior economist at the Institute of Directors, called on the government to consider its post-Brexit immigration strategy carefully, so employers could still access the talent they needed. 

“Individuals from abroad play a crucial role in addressing [skills shortages], in sectors from agriculture right through to financial services,” Parikh added. “But international workers also bring new ideas, management techniques, and a wealth of knowledge about foreign markets, which helps lift British trade and productivity.”

The ONS data also showed a dramatic drop in the number of EU citizens who came to the UK looking for work, which fell by 18,000 compared with the previous year to 37,000. The number of people who immigrated from the EU to the UK with a definite job remained roughly the same at 104,000.

The number of EU nationals working in the UK also dropped for the first time since 2010, falling by 28,000 to 2.3 million.

And, the commentary accompanying the ONS figures revealed EU nationals who had immigrated to the UK were more likely to be employed than their UK and non-EU counterparts. The employment rate for EU nationals was estimated to be 81.9 per cent, compared with 75.6 per cent for UK nationals and 63 per cent for non-EU nationals.

Tara Sinclair, economist and senior fellow at job site Indeed, argued that although there had been an increase in the number of EU citizens leaving the EU, the fact that many more had opted to stay should help employers “sleep a little more soundly”. 

“Brexodus remains a threat rather than a reality,” she added. 

The ONS data also revealed the number of Asian nationals coming to the UK for work-related reasons rose by 12,000, while the number entering the country with a definite job offer increased by 10,000.

Davies said this increase indicated “employers are going to greater lengths to address rising recruitment difficulties by using loopholes such as ancestral visas and the intra-company transfer scheme”. 

Employers have recently faced difficulties hiring staff from outside the EU, as the limit for Tier 2 visa restricted certificates of sponsorships – which businesses need to obtain before taking on a non-EU staff member – was reached for six months in a row. The problems prompted the Home Office to remove NHS doctors and nurses from the cap count last month, potentially freeing up 8,000 places.

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