Immigration has been a political issue in the UK for a number of years, and the Conservative government had stated its aim to reduce net migration increases to the tens of thousands. It never achieved that, and the commitment was dropped. There was an expectation that we would continue to see the numbers of people coming to the UK exceeding the numbers leaving and that this was necessary for the economy.
It is with some surprise that figures for the third quarter of 2020 have shown a considerable net decrease. Numbers from the Labour Force Survey state that the number of migrants living in the UK fell in 2020. In the third quarter of 2020, the estimated foreign-born population was 8.3 million, down from 9.2 million in the same quarter in 2019. That represents a fall of 894,000 or a little under 10%. While there is some scepticism over the real numbers, given the difficulties there have been collecting accurate figures during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth considering what these figures mean.
The Migration Advisory at the University of Oxford stated, “Following a large decline in international travel after the first UK lockdown, passenger numbers remained well below recent averages throughout the year. Grants of visas in categories across the immigration system also dropped in 2020. One of the major questions facing migration researchers and policymakers currently is what this all means for migration patterns overall. How much lower is migration because of the pandemic? Who is still coming to the UK and who is not? Who is leaving? Is the migrant population declining?”
These are all pertinent questions and the impact of Brexit also has to be taken into account.
The Home Office knew that following the end of the transition period, and when the full effects of Brexit were implemented, the Rules for sponsored workers would have to be changed to make it easier to employ migrant workers to fill gaps in the labour market. This was because EU migrants could not simply exercise their right to come here and work. Consequently, more jobs were included in the list of those suitable for sponsored workers, some minimum salaries were reduced, and a number of processes streamlined to make it quicker and easier to sponsor workers. Those changes were covered in our piece here.
Given the recent change in the Rules and the uncertainty in the accuracy of the figures, it is unlikely that we will see further new Immigration Rules in the short-term and we can only expect that the Home Office will insist on rigorous adherence to the Rules with significant penalties for employers who hire migrants without permission to work.
Despite that it is obviously a good time to consider increasing employee numbers and a recent report suggests that half of UK businesses are planning on taking on new staff in the next 3 months. We know that there are many industries that rely on migrant workers and it is now the case that any business that wants to employ a foreign worker, whether they are from the EU or anywhere else, needs to firstly have a Sponsor Licence and then they are able to sponsor Skilled Workers. Where they are a multi-national business, they can also assign Intra Company workers from overseas.
Given the impact of both Brexit and COVID, it would appear that now is a good time to take on migrant workers or establish your business in the UK. There are opportunities and, given the challenges facing the economy, those willing to invest in the UK are likely to be welcomed. Businesses not yet established here should always consider sending a senior member of staff as the Representative of an Overseas Business to oversee starting the business in the UK as this is the quickest way to have an experienced employee here rather than waiting for the business to be established and obtaining a Sponsor Licence.
While there is uncertainty about the real figures of net migration, there is no question that it is currently the best time for UK businesses to hire foreign workers and for overseas businesses to establish themselves here for a decade or more.
Contact us and see how our multi-disciplinary service offering can help you through these processes and many more.