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Official migration advisor: low-skilled Europeans likely to lose out after Brexit


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New rules on immigration from the EU after Brexit are likely to affect lower-skilled workers most, according to an independent economist who advises the government on migration policy.

Professor Alan Manning told MPs this afternoon that, judging by the immigration system of other countries, a post-Brexit system is more likely to exclude low-skilled workers than medium- or high-skilled migrants.

The distinctive feature of what has happened post-2004 is the large increase in migrants in relatively low-skilled jobs, and if you look at other countries in the world, even the ones that one thinks of as fairly open to migration — Canada being a good example — they would be much more restrictive on lower skilled migration than they are on higher and medium=skilled migration. So I do think it’s probably in the lower skill levels where change would be happening… the higher skilled might be something similar to the current [free movement regime].

The chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, said that “most countries in the world have a bias toward more skilled migrants when it comes to work-related migration… so I think it wouldn’t be that surprising if the UK, setting a migration system on its own, ended up in that kind of place”.

The government is reportedly yet to decide on what rules will apply to European migrants after Brexit, with options ranging from a “level playing field” (no special treatment compared to non-EU migrants) to the continuation of current free movement regime (seen as politically unlikely). The Home Secretary was unable to tell the same committee last month whether immigration would be on the table in the next stage of Brexit negotiations.

Professor Manning, an LSE academic, pointed out that the existing Points Based System for non-EU immigration does not provide a route for low-skilled workers. His committee’s forthcoming report on EU immigration is likely to “express a view on whether there should be”.

The economist also told the committee that employers rarely expressed confidence in the Home Office’s handling of Brexit.

Even things that the Home Office think they’ve been very clear about, I’m not quite sure that the message has gone down to employers. We went to Northern Ireland last week and a number of those employers seemed very uncertain still about what the rights would be of EEA citizens who came in the implementation period — even though I think the Home Office thinks it’s been relatively clear about that — and they wanted to know what to tell their EEA workers.

The Migration Advisory Committee has been commissioned by the Home Office to investigate the impact of EU migrants on the UK economy. It issued an interim report last month and will make its final report in September. By that time, though, the Brexit negotiations may be all but over.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.