Migration downturn 'shocking' UK employers

The plunge in net migration to the UK has sent "shock waves" through companies in all sectors of the economy, according to the nation's leading human resources organisation.

Image of deserted airport departures
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 34,000 more people arrived in the country than left last year – and this was before free movement from the EU ended. The total was 88% down on 2019 when net migration stood at 271,000.
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The actual number arriving last year was put at 268,000 (down from 592,000 in 2019) while the number leaving to live abroad also fell – to 234,000 from 300,000 in 2019.Jay Lindop, Director of the Centre for International Migration, said that while the figures showed no evidence of an exodus from the UK last year, global travel restrictions due to the pandemic meant the movement of people was limited. She added that all data sources suggested migration in 2020 "fell to the lowest level seen for many years".

Pandemic disruption hits migration plans

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said: “For most of the 2010s it was pretty difficult to fathom what would be required to hit the net migration target (set by the Conservative government at below 100,000 a year), which was so far below migration levels at the time.“These 2020 estimates illustrate that the severe disruption of a global pandemic appears to have dramatically reduced people’s motivations or ability to move to the UK.”The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said more recent ONS estimates for this year "provide further signals that the supply of EU workers has slowed dramatically since the introduction of migration restrictions".In a statement, it said the data showed that employers now source the bulk of migrant labour from outside the EU via the Skilled Worker route (formerly Tier 2).In the 12 months to September this year, the five most popular sources of labour for skilled worker visas were India (53,000), the Philippines and Nigeria (both 9,000), the US (6,000) and Pakistan (4,000).

Migration could impact inflationary pressure

Gerwyn Davies, Senior Labour Market Adviser at the CIPD, said: “Substantial growth in the supply of labour, due mainly to increased immigration from the EU, has helped meet strong labour demand over the past decade and more."However, the abrupt halt in the supply of EU workers continues to cause shock waves for employers across all sectors; particularly for hard-to-fill vacancies in low-paying sectors where EU citizens have been disproportionately employed."The dramatic reduction in the inflow of EU workers will also be a big concern to the Bank of England, as this may also contribute to mounting recruitment difficulties, which together with the current surge in price inflation, may lead to a pay-price spiral."'

'Employers need to adopt full range of recruitment measures'

He added that the findings reinforced the case for the immediate introduction of a temporary immigration safety valve, via a unilateral Youth Mobility Scheme for young EU citizens, to help alleviate rising labour and skills shortages."Under the scheme, a limited number of young EU citizens would be allowed to come to the UK in search of work without a job offer, which would appeal to the many employers who are deterred from using the immigration system due to the administrative burden,” he said.“Employers also need to adopt the full range of tactics available to them to help recruit, develop and retain workers that go beyond just raising wages. These include apprenticeships, a greater focus on line management capability, more opportunities for existing employees to train and progress and a wider availability of flexible working arrangements."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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