Umunna – Migration target will exacerbate skills shortages and British businesses will pay the price

Theresa May’s restated policy of cutting annual net migration to the tens of thousands will cut off a crucial supply of labour and exacerbate the skills shortages that already exist in many sectors of the economy, according to new research.

The report, UK Industry Workforce Demographics, by the independent research consultancy RepGraph, is the most in-depth look at where EU nationals are employed in the UK labour market, by sector, region and skill level.

It concludes that a ‘blanket approach to reducing migration’, focused on low skilled labour, could have ‘a doubly negative impact’, by both withdrawing a supply of labour that is needed and compounding existing skills shortages. The report suggests that a better immigration policy would be based on economic need, rather than numbers alone.

The study demonstrates that industries which employ the largest numbers of and proportion of low-skilled EU nationals are also those that are suffering from the greatest labour shortages. By contrast, EU nationals are least often employed in high-skilled jobs in sectors facing the lowest labour shortages.

Reducing net migration to the tens of thousands will disproportionately affect sectors which are already suffering from labour shortages, including accommodation and food services; administration and support services; wholesale, retail and repair of vehicle; manufacturing; and construction. These are not only some of the largest sectors of the UK economy, they are also among the sectors that already employ the largest number of EU nationals. 

Commenting, Chuka Umunna, leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said:

“It’s a depressing fact that this needs saying in 21st Century Britain, but this report proves that EU nationals make an enormous contribution to our economy and our country.

“The figures are there in black and white. EU workers are plugging vital gaps in the sectors of our economy that need them the most.

“The Prime Minister has resisted pressure from across the political spectrum, including from within her own Cabinet, to restate her commitment to the target, with potentially dangerous consequences.

“Theresa May’s ill-advised recommitment to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands will exacerbate already existing skills shortages and British businesses and our whole economy will pay the price.  

“The immigration target is gesture politics of the worst kind. It cannot be achieved without devastating economic effects and, as a result, will never be met. The Government should be honest enough to admit it and drop the damaging target.”


Notes to editors

The RepGraph report, commissioned by Business With Europe, can be seen here:

The main findings of the report, summarised in the Executive Summary, are:

  • EU nationals are employed in all major sectors of the economy.
  • EU nationals make up a small proportion of the UK workforce and are almost evenly distributed across skills levels.
  • EU immigrants are most often employed in the lowest skilled jobs in industries facing the greatest labour shortages.
  • Sectors with the highest shortages of low skilled labour employ above average numbers of low skilled EU nationals.
  • Sectors with the lowest level of shortages of the highest skills employ lower than average proportions of EU migrants.
  • It is almost four times more likely to find an EU immigrant in a job that requires the lowest level of skill and in an industry in which labour shortages are at their most acute than it is to find an EU immigrant in a job that requires the highest level of skill and in which labour shortages are least experienced.
  • Labour force shortages are highest in the sectors employing the highest numbers of people.
  • A blanket approach to reducing migration by focusing on low skilled labour alone could have a doubly negative impact: withdrawing a supply of labour that is needed whilst also compounding existing skills shortages at these very skill levels. This suggests that a policy based on numbers alone may be improved if based more on economic need. 

Open Britain have been running a campaign for the Government to drop the migration target:

In recent months, various Cabinet Minister have specified different sectors which will not be affected by any crackdown on immigration from the EU after Brexit.

Analysis by Open Britain has revealed that numerous members of the Cabinet have publicly failed to back the policy: