Immigration: UK Government plans likely to restrict supply of low skilled labour


  • Policy

13 February 2020


Much remains unknown about the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the rest of the world after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. However, Government policy on immigration once freedom of movement for EU citizens ends is already taking shape - and the implications for organisations in the workplace and facilities management profession, which depend on access to ‘low skilled’ workers, need to be recognised.

The Government is currently considering the latest report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) - the body that provides independent advice on migration and whose recommendations governments generally follow. The report advises against bringing in the ‘Australian-style points-based system’ repeatedly pledged by Boris Johnson ‘to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world’; instead it recommends adopting a mixed immigration system and:

  • retaining the existing Tier 2 visa scheme (the main route for skilled workers with job offers), but reducing the salary threshold (which currently applies for workers outside the EU) from £30,000 to £25,600, with lower thresholds for groups such as NHS workers, teachers and recent graduates
  • limiting a points-based system to those without jobs based on criteria of age, education, work experience, English language proficiency, and skills. Applicants would register their interest, with a set number each month invited to submit a full application
  • lowering the Tier 2 skills threshold (this could include a number of construction and engineering occupations), abolishing the cap on the annual number of visas granted and simplifying the application process.

What are the implications for our profession, wider society and the UK economy in general?

While it is encouraging that the MAC has listened to employers and industry bodies - including IWFM - who argued that the £30,000 salary threshold was unreasonably high and that more medium skilled workers will qualify at the lower level, businesses in general will find it harder to recruit migrants to fill lower skilled roles. The MAC itself anticipates that their proposals will lead to fewer migrants moving to the UK, especially to London, and that they are likely to reduce UK economic growth, with only minor increases in GDP and productivity.

With less than 11 months to go before free movement of people from the EU ends, businesses have little time to prepare for whatever new system comes into force. It is still not clear, for example, whether the Government will introduce a one year ‘low skilled’ visa or even whether a sector or skills-based approach could be adopted. Also, future trade deals negotiated by the Government may well include preferential access to the UK labour market for workers from various countries - including the EU.

What is not in doubt is that our profession already faces a widespread skills challenge – our own Market Outlook 2019 survey found that 75% of FM businesses experienced difficulty recruiting people with the right skills – and how the industry addresses the problem of filling roles currently held by low-skilled EU workers remains to be seen.

IWFM’s Career of Choice programme is seeking to grow the workplace and facilities management workforce to address this skills shortage. Working with award-winning education consultancy Class of Your Own, we have developed dedicated resources which enable volunteers to deliver workshops introducing our profession to secondary school students across the UK. We are inviting members to get involved with the campaign and help us inspire and encourage young people to become the workplace and facilities management professionals of the future. For further details on how you can take part, please see the Career of Choice hub or contact Phil Jenkins, Policy Executive:

We will continue to update members on developments in Government policy and legislation on immigration and other topics relating to the UK’s departure from the EU over the coming months.

For information on the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme, please read our article here.