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APPG on Migration says post-Brexit immigration system must consider needs of small business

Date of Publication: 
6 September 2017

Report warns needs of some businesses are outside the dichotomy between high and low-skilled migrants

APPG on Migration says post-Brexit immigration system must consider needs of small business

06 September 2017

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration has today released its report looking at how Brexit will affect the immigration needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and public sector organisations.

You can read the 20-page report here.

The report comes a day after the Guardian published a leaked internal Home Office discussion paper that set out detailed proposals on how the Government would seek to reduce the number of low-skilled workers migrating to the UK from the EU.

BBC News reported that the controversial leaked document suggests low-skilled migrants would be offered residency for a maximum of two years while those in "high-skilled occupations" would be granted permits to work for a longer period of three to five years.

According to today's APPG report, 7% of the total UK workforce are EU/EEA nationals (approximately 2.2 million workers), with SMEs in the retail, hospitality, manufacturing and social care sectors employing a high proportion of those workers.

As we reported yesterday on EIN, a survey by the think-tank British Future found the public favoured a post-Brexit immigration system that continued to attract high-skilled workers while cutting the numbers of the low-skilled. The APPG on Migration found in its report, however, that the needs of several economic sectors were more accurately articulated outside the dichotomy between highly skilled and low-skilled migrants that informs much of the current economic migration discussion and policy.

The report states: "In fact, the APPG heard from several of the stakeholders of their frustration that many of their employees are being labelled as 'low-skilled' despite skills and/or qualifications being required for the role. This labelling poses two problems. Firstly, it prevents recruitment from outside the EU/EEA, as many of the roles fall on the wrong side of the 2011 government's definition of 'high-skilled work'. Secondly, the labelling contributes to an image problem in many sectors, making recruitment from the domestic workforce more difficult as the jobs are perceived as unattractive or underpaid."

One care homes boss told the APPG: "Care work is very skilled, and we aim to train all our care assistants to at least Level 3 Diploma standard, as well as providing specialist training to anyone working with customers with dementia, Parkinson's, or at the end of their lives. However, the immigration system does not recognise these essential skills, and treats care workers as unskilled labour. This is an insult to them."

In some sectors, 'low-skilled' EU/EEA nationals make up over 50% of the workforce, due to the current immigration points based system being too complex and expensive for SMEs and public sector organisations to recruit and employ non-EU workers, and due to a shortage of domestic workforce willing to fill the roles.

The APPG says EU free movement has been an important safety valve for UK employers, especially SMEs, to fill vacancies at all skill levels and across geographies. Those SMEs warned the APPG that introducing a points based system for EU/EEA migrants would limit the flexibility many sectors need and could lead to shortages of workers.

The APPG recommends that any new immigration system should be flexibile, simple and unbureaucratic, so it does not deter certain sectors from reaching out beyond our borders when they need to.

The report makes the following recommendations:

• The government should be developing a top-down and a bottom-up view of the level of EU migration needed for the UK economy in the next 5 years with respect to high-skilled, mid-skilled and low-skilled work. A bottom-up approach should include extensive consultation with local economic migration stakeholders as well as analysis of local circumstances and the expectations from work of the local and migrant workforce. In this context, the APPG welcomes the Government's recent announcement of a Migration Advisory Committee study of the impacts on the United Kingdom labour market of the UK's exit from the European Union. We hope that the review will cover both top-down and bottom-up views.

• The current shortage occupation list reflects skills shortages in an economy that has unhindered access to labour from the EU. The government should review, and where appropriate, expand the UK shortage occupation list to more accurately reflect the scarcity of certain skillsets post-Brexit.

• Given the labour shortage, the government should conduct a review of the reasons that are preventing the settled workforce from taking up roles in certain sectors, and commit to undertaking a positive public relations exercise around industry sector roles that are considered, often wrongly, as 'low-skilled', such as roles in the hospitality, food, retail and social care sectors.

• Apprenticeships should be encouraged as a tool for training and upskilling the domestic workforce. Apprenticeships should be encouraged and provided for a variety of age groups, including for people who might be interested in switching to other industries.

• Where there are acute labour shortages, the government should consider a sectoral visa scheme or adaptation of the shortage occupation list, for example, in social care or agriculture.

• Given how vital the continued access to workforce from outside the UK is, the government should conduct an in-depth review of the Points Based System. Any proposals to extend the PBS to apply to EU migration post-Brexit should be carefully assessed to take into account the needs of the UK economy, particularly a large degree of flexibility, as well as incentives of current and potential migrant workers.

• The UK government must clarify its proposals for post-Brexit EU migration in order to provide reassurance to EU nationals and their families as well as businesses and prospective employers.

• Any transition period should allow businesses and employers the opportunity to 'phase in' the change, in particular, the ability to retain access to migrant labour in the medium term.

• Any proposals for a regional visa should be widely consulted on across the UK, made simple, nonbureaucratic and be designed to address local fluctuations in salary or vacancy needs.