A leaked draft of the UK Home Office’s plans for a post-Brexit immigration policy has caused a stir among employers in the country, the Guardian reports, with some industries, including building, agriculture, and hospitality, saying they could face “catastrophic” labor shortages if the plan is enacted as written:
About 2.2 million European Union nationals work in Britain – roughly 7% of the overall workforce – with some subsectors of the economy almost totally reliant on migrants, official figures show. … The hotels, retail and hospitality industries, in particular stand to lose from the reforms. Some 75% of waiters and 25% of chefs working in the UK come from other EU nations. “If these proposals are implemented it could be catastrophic for the UK hospitality industry,” said Ufi Ibrahim, the chief executive of the British Hospitality Association.
Hospitality firms need at least 60,000 new EU workers a year in order to fill vacancies, according to research for the BHA by the accountancy firm KPMG.
UK businesses were already worried about the impact of Brexit on the UK’s already tight labor market and their ability to meet their staffing needs and grown. The Home Office’s plans, which cater strongly to the demands of “hard Brexit” advocates who favor a crackdown on immigration from the EU, are unlikely to allay those concerns. The 82-page document, which the Guardian outlined when it emerged on Tuesday, proposes to end the free movement of labor between the UK and the EU as soon as Brexit comes into effect, and thereafter to phase in a new immigration system that end the right of most European immigrants to settle in the UK:
It proposes measures to drive down the number of lower-skilled EU migrants – offering them residency for a maximum of only two years, in a document likely to cheer hardliners in the Tory party. Those in “high-skilled occupations” will be granted permits to work for a longer period of three to five years.
The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system that ends the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants – and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring in family members. Potentially, this could lead to thousands of families being split up.
As outlined in an earlier plan released in June, EU citizens already living in the UK will be allowed to remain and apply for “settled status” if they were in the country prior to an as-yet undetermined cutoff date, though the BBC notes that this has been a point of disagreement in the Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU so far. The leaked document does not concern those already residing in the country.
The document states that “wherever possible, UK employers should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour,” but some experts believe it is impossible for the UK to fill jobs in key sectors without ready access to foreign talent. While the proposal to grant two-year work permits to low-skill workers is reminiscent of the “brickie visas” and “barista visas” floated previously as a solution to possible labor shortages after Brexit, some business leaders tell the Guardian that their industries simply cannot meet their talent needs with native Britons alone:
Peter Gowers, the chief executive of the hotel chain Travelodge, said: “Even if the hotel industry recruited virtually every person on the the unemployment register there wouldn’t be enough people to fill all the roles needed in the 10 years following Brexit. That’s particularly the case in London.” He said the government must consult on a “meaningful guest worker programme as a matter of urgency” to avoid price rises and cuts in investment in the industry.
Also this week, it came to light that the government had circulated a letter supporting its approach to Brexit among FTSE 100 companies and urged executives and directors at these companies to sign it. “Sources at some of the UK’s biggest businesses expressed incredulity at the request,” Sky News reported, while others told the Financial Times that the effort was decidedly odd, given corporate Britain’s well-known criticisms of Whitehall’s Brexit strategy, and doubted that it would garner very many signatures.