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Brexit should be based on expert advice, not politics, says REC

Skills shortages and high turnover rates could be exacerbated by restrictions on hiring non-UK nationals

Decisions about future UK immigration policy should be based on impartial, expert advice rather than politics to avoid risks to the jobs market and the economy, according to a report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) in partnership with the Migration Policy Institute and Fragomen.

The analysis in Building the Post-Brexit Immigration System revealed that EU nationals represent 7% of the total UK labour force, with reliance on them higher in sectors such as manufacturing (11% of the workforce, or 319,300 workers), retail and hospitality (9%, or 520,100 workers) and construction (8%, or 192,400 workers).

The research warned that current labour and skills shortages and high turnover rates could be exacerbated by restrictions on hiring non-UK nationals. Additionally, the UK’s ageing population combined with sub-replacement birth rates means the working population will be reduced in the future and raise the old-age dependency ratio, placing additional requirements on the welfare system. Since EU migrants are younger on average than the UK population they have helped to lower the old-age dependency ratio. But curbs on EU migration could mitigate this.

REC chief executive Kevin Green warned of the dangers of the Brexit process being dominated by politics. “Decisions about the future immigration system are too important to be subject to political whim – we need policy to be built on sound evidence and data,” he said. “This report is a significant contribution to the critical debate on immigration. It shows that businesses need access to people to deliver growth, and that the current UK workforce alone cannot meet demand.”

The REC has made several recommendations to the government to limit the potential damage caused by Brexit. These include to:

1. Grant greater independence and autonomy to the Migration Advisory Committee to inform policy and establish evidence-based targets.

2. Develop a five-year road map for the implementation of new immigration policy that avoids a ‘cliff edge’ when the UK leaves the EU, providing clarity for businesses.

3. Build a visa system that reflects the UK’s dependency on workers from the EU for a wide variety of roles, including provisions for seasonal and temporary workers.

“Designing the post-Brexit immigration system is an enormous task and it cannot happen only in Whitehall,” added Green. “Recruiters are on the frontline of the labour market, and we are ready to work with the government to design and deliver policies that will help the country prosper.”