Immigration minister Robert Goodwill has suggested an “immigration skills levy" that would force employers to pay a £1,000-a-year fee for every EU skilled worker they bring in after Britain leaves the EU.
From April 2017 the government is introducing a £1,000 annual charge on employers for each non-EU migrant worker, with some exceptions. However, Goodwill suggested this levy should also be applied to EU workers.
At a House of Lords inquiry the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby said that it could help British workers compete with those from abroad.
“It would be helpful to the British economy and to British workers who feel they are overlooked because of other people coming into the country getting jobs they would themselves like to get,” he said.
However, the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters that this levy was not on her agenda. "He [Goodwill] seems to have been misinterpreted and those comments taken out of context. What he said was there are a number of things that some people may suggest could be the way forward. At no point did he say it is on the agenda. It is not on the government's agenda."
REC chief executive Kevin Green told HR magazine he was “not convinced” such a levy would be positive. “The government needs to find a solution that will enable UK employers to continue to access skills and talent from abroad after we leave the EU,” he said. “However, we’re not convinced that a new financial burden on businesses is the answer.
“The government has set an arbitrary target for immigration, but the reality is that we have near-full employment and skills shortages are getting worse; 48% of employers expect to face a shortage of candidates for permanent roles in the next 12 months.”
Green also warned that the levy could result in costs being passed on to customers. “Businesses need to bring in workers from the EU to fill vacancies in key sectors such as healthcare, construction, engineering and food production,” he said. “The proposed levy would mean more bureaucracy, it would likely result in increased costs being passed on to customers, and in some circumstances it would make it more difficult for employers to invest in training.”
Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, warned that such a policy could be very harmful to the UK post-Brexit.
“Employers accept that immigration policy will be changing, with the government seemingly intent on making it harder to bring in workers from abroad,” he said. “However, charging £1,000 for each EU worker would hit businesses who are dependent on skills from abroad. The UK needs these companies to do well if we are to make a success of Brexit."