UK Prime Minister says she wants skilled EU workers to stay after Brexit, but Deloitte finds they're not so keen

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan June 26, 2017
The UK tech industry and external investment in it is dependent on skills availability. The British government has laid down its proposals to bolster that.

Theresa May

With Brexit talks now formally underway and the UK government’s initial position on the residency rights of EU citizens public, here’s a depressingly timed study from Deloitte that suggests around half of the highly-skilled workers from Europe are planning to quit the country over the next five years.

The study of 2,242 EU and non-EU workers living both in and outside the UK found that London, home to Tech City, is likely to be hit hardest by the exodus, with 59% of EU nationals considering leaving, compared to 21% in the Northern Powerhouse region.

All of this is despite the UK still being regartded as one of the top three destinations for EU citizens to want to move to. David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte north-west Europe, said:

The UK’s cultural diversity, employment opportunities and quality of life are assets that continue to attract the world’s best and brightest people. But overseas workers, especially those from the EU, tell us they are more likely to leave the UK than before. That points to a short- to medium-term skills deficit that can be met in part by up-skilling our domestic workforce but which would also benefit from an immigration system that is attuned to the needs of the economy.

The study was carried out before the General Election on 8 June and before the govenrment outlined its proposed policies on the rights of EU residents to remain in the UK after Brexit. These were outlined by Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday:

EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our United Kingdom – to our economy, our public services and our everyday lives. They are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our country and I have always been clear that I want to protect their rights. That is why I initially sought an agreement on this before we triggered Article 50. And it is why I am making it an immediate priority at the beginning of the negotiations.

I know there has been some anxiety about what would happen to EU citizens at the point we leave the European Union. Today I want to put that anxiety to rest. I want to completely reassure people that, under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU. We want you to stay.

Under the UK proposals, EU citizens living in the UK would be entitled to the same rights as UK citizens, but those rights would expire for those who move outside the UK for more than two years. EU citizens will have to have been resident in the UK for five years, but those who are in the UK before ‘cut-off’ date - no later than 29 March 2019 - but yet to accrue five years’ residence will be given ‘temporary status’ until they reach the five-year mark. A new ‘Settled status’ form of ID will be needed to carry on living in the UK lawfully.

The Prime Minister added that there would an effort to simply documentation for residency applications, currently running at over 80 pages:

The system of registration that citizens go through will be as streamlined and light touch as possible and we intend to remove some of the technical requirements currently needed to obtain permanent residence under EU rules.

The plans were denounced by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, who said:

The truth is it is too little, too late...This isn't a generous offer. This is confirmation the government is prepared to use people as bargaining chips.

But for the UK tech industry, techUK CEO Julian David commented:

The tech sector welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK. International, diverse talent is the cornerstone of success for the tech sector.

The move to scrap the 85-page application form and transition to a simple digital process is a step in the right direction. During the period ahead, using technology to streamline processes and create smooth transitions will be critically important.

However, more may be needed to secure a deal that can be agreed with EU leaders and delivers real certainty to EU citizens in the UK. We await further information regarding key issues such as the verification process, rights to pensions, family reunification and other key challenges remaining.

My take

An opening gambit from the UK government and one that will be met by brinkmanship from Brussels before a final position is agreed. On Twitter, Michel Barnier, who is leading the Brexit negotiations for the EU, called for:

More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today's UK position.

The Deloitte study, depressing as it is, is a timely reminder of the high stakes here. For overseas tech firms investing in the UK, there’s an urgent need to know that the skilled workforce they require is available - and gets to stay in the country.