Skip to content Skip to footer
Enquiries Call 0800 652 8025
Friendly colleagues chatting

Employing low skilled workers post Brexit

“Employers will need to adjust”

The new points based immigration system will apply to both EU and non EU nationals alike. The system is due to go live from 1 January 2021. The current Home Office policy paper explains how the UK will attract the ‘brightest and the best’ skilled workers. But what will happen to ordinary businesses that rely on regular less skilled workers to get things done?

The Government has announced:

‘We will not introduce a low skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour fro Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust

Employers are being told that they need to move away from relying on migrant labour and instead invest in staff retention, productivity, technology and automation. After enjoying free movement rights for a number of years the door is finally being closed … and quickly!

The new points based system

Skilled workers under the new system will have to meet mandatory requirements. Each applicant will have to:

  • show he/she has an approved sponsor (similar to the current Tier 2 scheme employers will have to apply to become Home Office licenced sponsors);
  • be offered a job at the correct skill level. Unlike the current system this has been lowered from degree to A level; and
  • be able to speak fluent English.

All workers will need to score 70 points; Applicants must score 50 points in the mandatory categories:

Skill Points Awarded
Correct level of English 10
Job offer from an approved sponsor 20
Job at appropriate skill level 20


But the next 20 points can be acquired in different ways:

Skill Points Awarded
Salary = £20,480 to £23,039 0
Salary = £23,040 to £25,599 10
Salary = over £25,600 20
Job in a shortage occupation 20
PhD degree 10
PhD degree in engineering, maths, science or technology 20


Who is ‘skilled’?

Under the new system the definition of skilled workers has been expanded to include jobs equivalent to A level education standards and not just not graduate level, as is currently the case.

Where will the new pool of lower skilled migrants come from?

It is unlikely that the ‘brightest and the best’ will want to do low skilled work. With immigration routes being closed to new migrants the Government solution is that the following groups can undertake this work to meet labour demands:

  • 2 million EU citizens who have applied to stay in the UK after Brexit
  • 170,000 recently arrived non EU citizens such as dependants of skilled workers who are available to work
  • 20,000 young people who come to the UK each from 8 countries with whom we have Youth Mobility arrangements

None of the above groups are compelled to work in the UK. It is not a condition of their visa.

Will there be help for some industries?

The short answer is no! The only possible exception is the agricultural industry. The seasonal workers pilot will be expanded in time for the 2020 harvest from 2,500 to 10,000 places. The UK is completely dependent on foreign workers to pick its fruit and vegetables. According to the National Farmers Union, of the 60,000 seasonal workers in the fields last year picking fruit and vegetables, barely 1% was British. The vast majority of these workers come from Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria and Romania. So even the quadrupled allowance for seasonal workers to 10,000 may not meet demand.

How will the new immigration rules affect businesses?

 Industry groups representing farming, catering and nursing have warned that it will be hard to recruit staff under the new system. This will have various knock-on affects.

  • Workers cannot be recruited. Increase wages to attract them
  • Additional overheads for the business
  • Increased costs for the consumer

If consumers refuse to bear the increased costs many businesses may be forced to close down.

What about lower paid industries?

There will be significant changes in how the UK economy works and massive challenges for businesses reliant on lower skilled European workers We briefly examine some of the industries that may be affected.

Retail and hospitality

Getting a visa to come to the UK to work in shops and cafes is likely to be very difficult in the future.

Some very senior and specialist types of chef can come to the UK as this occupation is on the shortage occupation list, but most people in this industry will find that their skills won’t be counted as sufficiently skilled or sought after to qualify under the new immigration system.

At a time of record low levels of unemployment this sector is facing critical labour shortages, despite investing in skills, training and increasing apprenticeships for the settled workforce.

NHS and social care

Concern about the new immigration system within the NHS is not as significant as in the social care sector. A number of NHS jobs are on the shortage occupation list, including nursing. This will make it easier to recruit some staff under the points based system. Lower paid staff, such as healthcare assistants and porters are likely to be affected. This effective ban on employing non overseas workers must be considered in light of the growing vacancy rates in the NHS, where one in 12 jobs is unfilled in England.

Most people employed by the adult social care sector are low paid workers providing daily help to older and disabled adults in care homes and the community. Foreign nationals currently make up a sixth of the 840,000 care workers in England. But under the new system, foreign nationals applying to work in the UK care sector will fall short of the required 70 points.

Care work is not classed as a shortage occupation. There haven’t been any indications that this will change, despite , one in 11 posts is currently unfilled in England. Even if care work is considered as a skilled job the average salary at under £20,000 is too low to qualify for any points.

The government’s new immigration system looks set to make the UK’s social care crisis even worse.

Agriculture and food production

The agriculture and food production industry has raised strong concerns about being able to access enough workers, as it relies heavily on staff from abroad e.g. pickers, packers and meat processors.

The British Meat Processors Association has said the industry is “deeply concerned”. Approximately 60-70% of workers in meat plants are non UK workers:

‘They quickly get trained and go above that salary cap. Our concern is getting access to that sort of person … We struggle to get that on the home market. The only option will be slowing down how many animals we can take in, it will disrupt the whole supply chain from farm gate to consumer – costs for farmers, and shortages of food on the shelves.’

An increase of the seasonal workers pilot doesn’t address the needs of this sector.

While technology and automation are suggested as plausible fixes for these shortages leaders suggest that, while important, they cannot solve labour requirements. Consideration must be given to specific skills required for each industry to prosper. Low skilled must not mean low priority if British businesses are to compete on a global scale.

How can you protect your business?

There are number of ways you can protect your business now. These include:

  • Create a business contingency plan
  • Develop an effective retention strategy
  • Ensure any EU staff employed have registered for the EU Settled Status scheme
  • Re-draft job descriptions
  • Invest in apprenticeships
  • Consider getting a sponsor licence to sponsor non EU nationals

If you are affected by this issue or any other UK immigration issues please contact our team.


More on this topic

Employment & HR

How to make nature recovery pay

BNG is an approach to development and/or land management that aims to leave the natural environment for wildlife in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.
Read more on How to make nature recovery pay
Employment & HR

Employment law changes from April 2024

As we head into the 2024/25 tax year, employers and HR professionals face a raft of new legislative employment law changes to be aware of. We have summarised the key updates you should be aware of this April.
Read more on Employment law changes from April 2024

Looking for legal advice?