A quarter of employers believe that making it a requirement for EU migrants to have a job would have a negative impact on their business, research by the CIPD has found.
The CIPD’s survey, released as Brexit negotiations begin this week, suggests that limits to the free movement of labour could damage business and public-service delivery.
One in 10 said the number of EU nationals they had recruited since the Brexit vote had decreased, 11% said they were considering relocating all or part of their UK operations outside the UK, and 9% believed they would focus future growth outside the UK.
Almost one-fifth of employers who were looking to relocate operations said Germany would be their preferred option, the CIPD’s research found.
More than one-third (35%) of employers revealed that the main reason they have historically recruited EU nationals is because they cannot fill low- or semi-skilled jobs with UK applicants.
One employer, a large food manufacturer, told the CIPD: “[Recruiting EU migrants] is not a deliberate policy. We will recruit, hopefully, the best person for the job, at the right time. It just so happens that, in many cases, that’s what’s come up. It’s just what’s happened.”
Another said: “Would I employ more British people? Absolutely, but we don’t get the applications to be honest. The majority of the applications come from people within the EU. I suppose it’s the easiest industry for them to get a foothold in.”
Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said: “Access to skilled and unskilled labour is a huge concern for employers.
“If the Government does not provide a straightforward, flexible and affordable immigration system for EU nationals post-Brexit, as set out in our recommendations, significant numbers of employers are likely to face real skill shortages which may hold back their growth and performance.”
Cheese added that “an overly blinkered approach focused on simply cutting immigration to tens of thousands and focusing only on high-skilled employees could leave employers high and dry, especially those who rely more on EU migrants to fill low-skilled jobs”.
He urged the Government to consult more widely about plans to limit immigration and said that many employers were already developing strategies to attract and develop UK workers.
Heather Rolfe, associate research director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which compiled the research together with the CIPD, said: “Ideally, many employers would like to recruit more young people but working in a meat factory or a care home is not top of the list for school leavers now, and never has been.
“It would be very unwise indeed for the Government to end free movement without putting in place new policies which enable employers to meet their needs for lower-skilled labour. Our key sectors and services will suffer damage if policies to replace free movement are introduced in haste and are costly, complex and bureaucratic.”