In his recent address to the Home Affairs Committee, the Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), Professor Alan Manning, advised the MPs that the new immigration rules, which would be implemented following the UK’s exit from the EU at the end of March 2019, will most likely have an adverse affect on lower-skilled EU workers.
In July 2017, the Home Secretary commissioned the MAC to assess the impact on the UK labour market of the UK’s exit from the EU and how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy. Their interim report 'EEA workers in the UK labour market: interim update' was released a few weeks ago. It concentrated on providing evidence for the government’s “design of a new migration system after the end of the implementation period in 2021” concluding that employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers and there was no evidence to suggest that EU immigrants reduce average wages for UK-born employees.
Professor Manning advised the Home Affairs Committee that after the 2004 EU enlargement, when ten countries joined the EU, a large increase in migrants in relatively low-skilled jobs was the “distinctive feature” of the UK’s labour market. The chair of the MAC believed that it would not be at all surprising if after Brexit the UK government would want to limit the numbers of low-skilled workers being admitted to work here.
He stated that looking at the immigration rules of other countries in the world, even those which are considered to have “fairly open migration” policies, it was evident that much more restrictive immigration measures were applied to lower-skilled workers. Usually, such migrants did not have options for settlement as workers and would instead try to secure their permanent residence in those countries via family or even asylum routes. Although Professor Manning did not confirm any particular numbers limiting lower-skilled migration after Brexit, he believed that a “sizeable change from the status quo is possible”, whilst higher-skilled workers should continue to enjoy similar rights as afforded by the current free movement regime.
Professor Manning also expressed his concern that many businesses are not well prepared for changes in the labour market. He stated that when the MAC met with employers “the sense of this pervasive uncertainty was there the whole time”. Some employers told the MAC that “they were putting their expansion plans on hold” until the government provides more clarity on the post-Brexit migration laws and regulations.
When asked whether he has “confidence in the Home Office to be able to design and operate the system that is going to deal with this level of complexity” Professor Manning stated that the MAC’s task is to provide recommendations for the government and not to get involved in the operational side of the government’s dealings. However, he admitted that from meetings with employers it was clear that it was rare for them to express confidence in the Home Office’s handling of Brexit.
The MAC’s final report is due in September 2018. However, it is increasingly anticipated that the government might “strike a migration deal” with the EU before the report is released.
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