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Speaking this week at the Davos World Economic Forum, Poland’s Prime Minister saw a small hint of a silver lining within the looming cloud of Brexit. While urging the U.K. government to make every effort to ensure that Poles living in Britain would not be penalized in no deal scenario, Mateusz Morawiecki also made clear that he would welcome with open arms any of his country’s citizens that opted to return home. “More and more are coming back and we’re very happy with that,” he said.
Poland’s gain could be the United Kingdom’s loss. At a time when employment rates are at a record high, employers across a wide range of sectors have come to rely on the E.U. as a source of both skilled and unskilled labor. And that’s certainly true in the tech startup sector. Walk into any co-working space in London and it will quickly become apparent that Europe is providing not only skilled coders, managers and marketers but also a great many founders.
There are signs that Government gets the message. While Prime Minister May has stuck stubbornly to the view that Brexit must deliver an end to the “free movement of people,” there is also an acknowledgement that any sudden, Brexit-inspired outflow of E.U. workers would not be good for the economy. So sitting alongside the anti-free-movement rhetoric, Ministers are also seeking to offer reassurance to Europeans living in Britain. Those who are here already can now begin to apply for settled status and this week, the proposed £65 fee was dropped as a gesture of goodwill.
Looking To The Future
But those already living and working in Britain represent only part of the story. The main concern among entrepreneurs is that in the post-Brexit future, it will become much more difficult, not only to attract overseas workers, but also to navigate a way through the bureaucracy that inevitably walk hand in hand with any new immigration regime.
So this is where things begin to get scary – at least potentially. If Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement – or indeed anyone else’s deal – finds a way through Parliament, Britain will enter a transition period that will look and feel very much like staying in the EU until 2020. Freedom of movement – at least in practice – will continue as before. So, no cliff edge recruitment crisis for employers.
But what about the “no deal” scenario that seems increasingly likely in the face of a deadlocked parliament. Will Britain’s entrepreneurs be able to find the workers they need?
Well, possibly. According to Adam Merali, a founder of law firm, Merali Beedle, the initial impact of a no deal Brexit on recruitment would be profound but not necessarily totally disastrous
“No one knows for certain what will happen but there is a White Paper (a document containing proposed legislation) that is intended come into force after 2020,” he says. “In the event of no deal, the measures in the White Paper would probably be brought forward.”
If that happens, new rules would come into play, doing away with free movement, excluding migrants from welfare benefits and setting immigration targets. It would also move Britain to a skills-based immigration system and under current proposals, visas would only be available to those earning more than £30,000 a year.
On the face of it, those measures would stop EU migration in its tracks and create real problems for employers. However, Merali says other proposals set out in the White Paper will makes things a little easier. For instance, EU citizens will be able to to come to Britain and work for a year before having to leave. That is intended to reassure employers that low skilled workers will be available.”
“And I don’t expect the £30,000 rule will go through,” adds Mereli. As he points out, the proposal has been put out to consultation and the result is likely to be a different threshold or test for skilled workers, with a view to increasing the number of available visas.
A Welcoming Nation?
But there are other issues to consider – not least the question of whether European workers will feel welcome in the U.K. and whether they (and their employers) are prepared to navigate a way through a new – and doubtless very bureaucratic – visa system.
And there are also questions around long-term residency. As things stand, E.U, workers have a right not only to work , but also settle in Britain and build a life. That won’t necessarily be true under the new system, in which residency could be tied to a specific job. Amid a sense that Britain is not quite so welcoming as it once was, net migration from Europe has been falling. There is no guarantee that skilled E.U. workers will want to come to Britain in the future.
Merali believes that if Britain wants to attract overseas workers it will have to be flexible enough to attract those with high skills. “The UK will have to go on a massive PR drive,” he says.
A withdrawal agreement with the E.U. could change everything, in that it would pave the way for a trade deal, which is likely to include agreements on travel and working rights. That in itself could solve a lot of potential problems. But for the moment, employers should be thinking about the implications of a no deal scenario.
January 25, 2019 at 11:40AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs