Thursday's announcement by Amber Rudd to launch a major assessment of migration from the European Union is welcome news. It vital to have an independent view on what future immigration policies should look like. For us, the3million, it does open the question though why this is done one year after the referendum and not one year before. The referendum was heavily fought on the issue of immigration and we are now wondering how the government was able to fight this referendum without understanding the basic demographics and sectoral make up of the 3.2 million EU nationals already here.
The assessment will cover many areas such as:
• The current patterns of European Economic Area (EEA) migration, including which sectors are most reliant on EU labour;
• The economic and social costs and benefits of EU migration to the UK economy
• The potential impact of a reduction in EU migration and the ways in which both business and the Government could adjust to this change;
• The current impact of immigration, from both EU and non-EU countries, on the competitiveness of UK industry and skills and training;
• Whether there is any evidence that the availability of unskilled labour has led to low UK investment in certain sectors;
• If there are advantages to focusing migrant labour on high-skilled jobs.
The enquiry is heavily focused on the economic needs and costs of a future immigration system but omits two vital aspects.
Firstly, it solely looks at immigration but ignores the potential impact of emigration which has been on the increase since the referendum. A recent survey by Baker McKenzie shows that 56% of EU employees consider leaving the UK. The number is even higher in the NHS with 84% of EU employees considering to leave the UK. Thus, it is paramount for the government to understand what kind of environment they need to create for the 3 million fully integrated EU nationals already here to convince them to stay. The assessment completely ignores this.
Secondly, the enquiry focuses on the public and private employer needs in terms of workforce. Currently 45% of EU nationals are coming to the UK with a job already secured filling existing job openings.
This is only half of the picture though. Many are not coming here because of the job openings alone but for the overall package of opportunities working in Great Britain is providing. The UK is the gateway to the EU for many multinational employers, who currently can draw on a diverse European workforce to service all of Europe from the UK. This makes the UK an attractive place to work for many young people. At the moment it is as easy and safe for these young people to take a job and build their lives in York or Birmingham as it is to accept a job in Munich or Milan.
With strict visa regulations aimed to reduce number of net migration to the 10s of thousands and policy of hostile environment as introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary it is questionable though whether the employment needs as identified in the upcoming assessment will be matched with enough applicants willing to make the move from the EU into the UK where their status will be questioned on a permanent basis.
Regarding the situation of the 3 million EU nationals currently in the UK we know that the report, scheduled for September 2018, will be far too late to have any impact on the ongoing EU negotiations on our citizens' rights, which are meant to be concluded later this year. It is worrying that the UK is negotiating without actually fully understanding the benefits EU nationals already here are bringing to the UK. There is great uncertainty among our members. The new report will not help to reduce this but is increasing the worries about the UK negotiating with limited information on what environment we need to convince the 3.2 million not to leave our current employers, whether it is the NHS or the private sector.