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Immigration E-briefing: Brexit: What should the future requirements be for low-skilled migration?

  • United Kingdom
  • Global mobility and immigration - HR e-briefs


Will the end of free movement between the UK and EU prevent future employer access to lower skilled workers? A new report analyses how the UK’s ability to fill low-skilled roles may be maintained after Brexit.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford estimates 500,000 people born in EU countries work in relatively low-wage, low-skilled jobs. In industries such as food processing, more than 20% of all employees are now from these countries. Future restrictions on free movement will be relevant to employers relying on these staff and this report assesses which immigration policy options may be available.

The Government has advised it wishes to extend the Youth Mobility Scheme to citizens of EU countries after Brexit. This immigration category is not linked to actual vacancies, however, and the report notes the number of existing applications is relatively few. Almost half of new EU migrants in recent years would have failed to meet the current age restrictions, so any variation may need to account for this. The other widely discussed option is a new Work Permit Scheme, allowing sponsorship linked to specific low-skilled jobs. An immigration category for agricultural workers existed for many years until 2013 and, more briefly, there was a visa which allowed workers to take temporary roles in food processing and allied industries. A concern highlighted in this report is that visa categories for low-skilled work with a specific employer can be open to abuse, so suitable safeguards would be necessary to prevent this.

The anticipated consultation by the Migration Advisory Committee will be important in establishing the new system to be introduced, especially since there appears no clear Government preference regarding the immigration system to be introduced for workers arriving after Brexit. Major revision of the current Points Based System appears likely. How the Government reconciles the relative importance of labour shortage and controlling immigration may well be a key issue.

Our team continues to monitor developments with Brexit and immigration and will report any Government policy announcements regarding the above in due course.