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Will businesses survive without ordinary workers?

The new points based immigration system is due to go live from 1 January 2021. It will apply to both EU and non EU nationals. The Government aims to 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 from 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 nailed shut.

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 low skilled work to meet demand:

  • 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 as a condition of their visa.

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% were 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!

There will be significant changes in how the UK economy works and massive challenges for businesses reliant on lower skilled European workers e.g. retail and hospitality, NHS and social care, agriculture and food production. Industry groups representing farming, catering and nursing have warned that it will be hard to recruit under the new system. This will have various knock-on affects. If consumers refuse to bear the increased costs many businesses may be forced to close down.

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

  • Creating a business contingency plan
  • Developing an effective retention strategy
  • Ensuring any EU staff employed have registered for the EU Settled Status scheme
  • Re-drafting job descriptions
  • Investing in apprenticeships
  • Considering 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.


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