For anyone hoping that Brexit would bring an immediate end to free movement, the news that Theresa May is considering extending free movement for a period after the talks come to a close in March 2019 may come as a bit of a shock. Speaking in Saudi Arabia, the British Prime Minister outlined plans for an “implementation period” which would give businesses and the government time to adjust to the changes. As businesses have already started pulling out the UK, and Heathrow owners recently halted investment in the UK following the triggering of Article 50, there is clearly uncertainty on the horizon.

While businesses that rely on European labour know that training up the local workforce should now become a priority, this isn’t an overnight solution and it is likely to have an impact on Bringing freedom of movement to a close is likely to impact on productivity and profits. As the country waits for final confirmation of what the future visa plans for EU migrant workers will look like, many are speculating that it will take the form of skilled work permits granted to workers in specific industries. While highly skilled roles and low skilled roles are likely to be well-covered, there is concern that middle-skilled workers might fall between the visa categories.

This would impact industries such as manufacturing in addition to some highly specialised roles such as butchers and laboratory assistants. Engineering roles are also likely to be affected, with firms looking at staff shortages in the lift repair engineers, warehouse operatives and installation technicians. Over a third of UK companies in the engineering and technology sector have expressed concerns about filling the skills gap after the UK finalises its exit from the European Union, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

Neil Carberry, director for people and skills at the CBI business lobby said: “As we leave, free movement will not work as it has before but we will still need an approach to mobility from the EU that acknowledges the value that EU workers bring to our economy.” If the UK were to follow suit with current visa caps placed on non-EU migrants, then only those EU migrants earning over £30,000 would be allowed to work in Britain after Brexit. This would damage those industries that rely on sub-graduate roles, typically earning around £16,000 to £30,000 per year. This would place them between the immigration categories, as they are not low-skilled, seasonal workers, but nor are they the high-earning workers. While businesses might be aware of a need to train local workforces, this isn’t an overnight solution, and any sudden shortages could damage businesses.

If you are worried about the impact Brexit will have on your job or your business, get in touch with one of our immigration advisors today.