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Picking winners? The UK and post-Brexit labour migration

27 Jan 2017

Which industries can bring in migrant workers – and which cannot – will be one of the defining questions in migration policy if the UK government ends free movement after Brexit, a new report from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has concluded.

The new report, Labour Immigration after Brexit: Trade-offs and Questions about Policy Design, considers the options for post-Brexit labour immigration policy and their potential ramifications.

The report notes that reducing EU migration after Brexit is a key government objective. However, deciding how and where to achieve such reductions is not a simple statistical exercise but involves a series of subjective, political decisions. Some industries and businesses will see bigger impacts than others, and deciding which ones should be allowed to bring in migrant workers could be a contentious process.

Perhaps the single biggest question about migration policy after Brexit is how much—if any—of the demand for low- and middle-skilled workers the government will satisfy, the report argues. The government has indicated that high-skilled EU workers are not likely to be the main target of measures to reduce migration after Brexit.

The report notes that the government faces a choice between implementing a tailored migration system which is responsive to differing policy goals (such as supporting specific industries like agriculture or reducing the cost of social care) and a simpler set of rules that can be applied more uniformly across all industries. There are pros and cons to each approach: a tailored system enables the government to put immigration policy at the service of other government objectives like industrial strategy or supporting public services, but is also more complex and harder to implement.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory and author of the report, said: “There’s no single, objective metric to decide which industries should continue to receive new migrant workers after Brexit. The government will need to juggle several different objectives, like the desire to reduce migration, support particular sectors, or to negotiate a new relationship with the European Union. Some of these objectives will inevitably conflict, so the challenge will be deciding how to prioritise them. Ultimately, a fair amount of political judgment will be needed.”

– Ends –

Notes to editors:

  • This report was produced with support from business advisory firm Deloitte. More information about Deloitte’s work on international migration is available here.

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, and has also received support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The content of the Migration Observatory’s research is determined solely by its staff with the support of its Expert Advisory Board, and cannot be influenced by its financial supporters.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.

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