As Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to meet senior European Union officials to press forward with renegotiations over Britain’s membership of the supranational body, there has been much speculation over the impact a possible Brexit could have on the UK’s record net migration figures.
A Migration Watch UK briefing paper published on 27th January has suggested a possible negotiating position for Britain in any discussions that followed the public voting in a referendum to leave the EU.
The report does not advocate either exit from or remaining in the EU, but considers the possible impact of restricting work migration to those in higher-skilled jobs, while remaining open to the entry of the family members of EU citizens, students and visitors. Such a restriction could form part of a renegotiated relationship if the UK were to remain within the EU or be introduced unilaterally if the UK were to leave the EU.
It illustrated that only 20 per cent of EU migrants working in the UK who arrived over the last ten years were working in higher-skilled jobs.
Such a policy, if adopted, would be likely therefore to have a big impact on net migration from the EU.
As for the potential for reduction, we estimated a ball park figure of around 100,000 (the net migration figure from the EU for the year to June 2015 was 180,000).
In his analysis, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw questioned whether such a policy would really restrict numbers.
He asked: “Wouldn’t there be an influx of migrants from the EU before the restrictions came into force?”
Answer: Yes. There would be a risk of stimulating arrivals before new measures could take effect. However, this would be a policy for the long term reduction of low skilled (or low paid) migration from the EU.
Mr Shaw also asked whether businesses that currently rely on labourers, chambermaids and supermarket shelf-stackers from Europe would demand that they be allowed to recruit them from elsewhere.
Answer: Undoubtedly, business will create a fuss. However, no one is suggesting existing EU residents leave.
Employers can always turn to the 1.7 million people not in work but looking for a job in Britain and to the 13.4 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 who are presently unemployed. The Migration Advisory Committee’s July 2014 report on low-skilled work acknowledged that UK school leavers are being overlooked for jobs in favour of migrants.
Secondly, instead of turning to cheap labour, companies should be looking to raise productivity, which the Chancellor and the OBR have both made clear is the key to real growth and sustainable public finances.
Finally, Mr Shaw wondered whether the EU would introduce work permits for British workers, thereby reducing emigration from the UK?
Answer: Yes, the EU would likely reciprocate. However, the numbers impacted would be much less. Total British net emigration worldwide in the year up to June 2015 was 45,000, of whom not many will be taking low-skilled work. Brits will still be free to take higher skilled jobs, study and retire across the EU (under our proposals).
In summary, it is time to examine possible alternative immigration regimes. Work permits for EU citizens could substantially reduce net migration and its resultant pressure on the UK’s population and public services.
To read the full briefing paper, click here.