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According to a survey from the Resolution Foundation, almost half of British businesses have not made arrangements in order to deal with a change in immigration policy following Brexit. When Britain leaves the EU, it is expected that some changes will be made to the way EU workers are able to live and work in the UK. However, 17% of the businesses surveyed believe that no changes to the current freedom of movement agreement will be made.
With Brexit negotiations due to start next week, Angela Merkel has already stated that the EU negotiators are ready and willing to work with the newly formed government. It isn’t yet clear if the negotiating position will change now that Theresa May has failed to secure the votes she needed in order to push for a hard Brexit. This week, we heard reports that May could even be in talks with politicians across the aisle including Jeremy Corbyn in order to gain support for her Queen’s Speech. In order to gain Labour support, May would have to back down from some of her campaign pledges and soften her stance on issues such as immigration limits.
The think tank behind the report has warned that these expectations were misguided, as Brexit is likely to have some impact on immigration to the UK. This will, in turn, have an impact on hiring opportunities for UK businesses. According to the report, 30% of businesses said they expect freedom of movement to continue for some time after Brexit while 46% responded that they didn’t anticipate any decline in the number of EU and EEA citizens they employ. Interestingly, 24% expect to see an increase in the number of workers they employ from the EU and EEA countries.
According to Stephen Clarke, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, “There’s a stark gap between what businesses want and expect from our post-Brexit immigration system and what the government has pledged to deliver. Reconciling these differences, and giving businesses enough to plan for a new regime is absolutely vital.” Unfortunately for business owners, it’s difficult to make preparations when there is so much uncertainty around which path the Brexit negotiations will take.
With EU citizens facing uncertainty over their right to stay in the UK and gain EEA Permanent Residence, some sectors have already noted a labour and skills shortage. In February, there were already shortages across manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality. Over the coming weeks and months, businesses will be wanting to see reassurances that the government has reached a unified stance on immigration.