Draw up temps' Brexit-immigration policy, ministers urged

The fate of temporary workers such as contractors in the UK from 2021 is being drowned out by a cacophony of Brexit-related noise, an agency staffing body has signalled.

In a new report, the REC says a “lack of clarity” for such workers persists, in spite of the UK and EU agreeing freedom of movement will run for 21 months beyond the March 2019 exit.

That means the status quo will continue for Britons until December 2020 -- and EU nationals arriving in the UK before then can seek ‘settled status’ to stay, the report points out.

“What will happen in terms of immigration policy from 1 January 2021 is still to be decided,” REC says. “All options except the continuation of free movement of labour are still on the table.”

An attempt to whittle down those options has been made by the government in its Brexit White Paper -- a sort of fleshing out of the so-called 'Chequers agreement.'

The paper says freedom of movement will definitely end, yet the government says it proposes to discuss how to facilitate “temporary mobility” of the self-employed between UK-EU nations. 

For the supply of goods or services, the UK wants "continued frictionless access" on goods, and similarly "reciprocal commitments" between the UK and EU on services, including Digital.

What the UK does not want for its EU counterparts, at least according to the REC, is “a numerical target” for how many workers to take in from the continent.

“Access to the UK for EU workers after the transition period [which is due to run from March 2019 until December 2020] should be based on coming to make a contribution”, it said.  

Those with a job should be able to work here…[and] eligibility to work attached to individuals rather than through sponsorship with an employer – so people are not tied to a single employer”.

To underline the urgency, the confederation cited an ONS update showing that in the year to September 2017, EU migration into the UK for work fell by 58,000.

Recruiters in key sectors including IT have confirmed the decrease, with Manpower, for example, recently saying its summer pool of EU temps has now narrowed from 14% to 10%.

“We urge the UK government and policymakers to reflect on the pressing need for access to temporary workers and to introduce a practical, effective and responsive system which will ensure the sufficient supply of labour for business,” the REC said.

“Two key questions are, ‘Will EU nationals receive a preferential system over non-EU nationals?’ [And]…’Will there be a new controlled form of movement of EU workers, will the current non-EEA points-based system be extended, or will a new bespoke system be created?’”

Regardless of the answers, the report puts forward six principles to be factored in to the immigration system’s design for temporary workers, post-Brexit.

The six are for it to be; evidenced (not target) based; quick and predictable; low cost, not job-specific; long term in its approach and recognising of different contracts.

Once in place, the government was told it will need to invest in enforcement; widen the pool of UK candidates who consider temporary opportunities and reform the Apprenticeship Levy.

Due to the AL's impact on tax bills, the latter demand is likely to be supported by many in the IT contracting sector, although in the confederation’s report, Computing features behind the industries which have been most in need of temporary workers in 2018 – Blue Collar, Hospitality, and Nursing/Medical/Care.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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