How will reducing low-skill foreign workers impact UK employers?

Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at employment law consultancy Croner discusses how the new Immigration White Paper policies will impact UK employers.

With the long overdue Immigration White Paper being published, employers were keen to see how the new policy affects their business.

Set to be introduced after the Brexit implementation period, i.e. phased in from January 2021, the new immigration policy introduces a short-term visa for low-skilled and seasonal workers. This visa will only last for a 12-month period and will restrict these workers from having access to public benefits, the right to settle or to bring dependants. Whilst this scheme does make allowances for those employers who employ low-skilled workers, those working in sectors which heavily rely on EU workers, such as hospitality, care and agriculture, may find themselves facing a shortage of workers come 2021. This is because the restrictions on the short-term visa may make this an unattractive scheme for those looking for seasonal, temporary or low-skilled work within the EU, especially where the worker remains free to move to other EU countries to work without restrictions.

Looking to the future, UK employers will have to examine their recruitment needs and practices to ensure their business does not face a shortage of workers once the policy is in place. Currently, they can help communicate the EU Settlement Scheme to their current staff as this provides ‘settled status’ to those EU nationals who reach a period of five years’ residency, so long as they were residing within the UK by the 31 December 2020 (in a Brexit ‘deal’ scenario).

Moving forwards, employers who rely on numbers of EU workers will have to assess whether they can upskill current members of their UK workforce or attract new talent through training and development schemes, such as apprenticeships. In addition, ensuring the company’s recruitment and retention strategy is competitive within their section will help attract and retain sufficient staff, although this may need additional financial resources to ensure matters such as pay and benefits are competitive. Taking these measures will ensure there is no staffing or skills gap in circumstances where EU workers leave the business or sufficient numbers can no longer be recruited.

With all ongoing policies, employers need to remain up-to-date with any potential changes or amendments due to the ongoing Brexit process. With implementation dates set to be confirmed, and further guidance or details likely to be released closer to the introduction, employers have a period of time to review their business needs and take proactive action to ensure they have sufficient staff to operate