The EU is introducing a raft of new measures to lure skilled workers from outside its borders, increasing competition with the UK for vital personnel – just as the British government commits to drastically reducing migration.
The situation has been described as an ‘impossible conundrum’ by legal experts.
The latest figures released by the UK government show that net migration to the UK has risen to almost 750,000, meaning that in the past two years, migrants have swelled the population of Britain by 1.3m.
Many Conservative Party MPs – including the sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman – and Tory voters see this as a betrayal of Brexit’s promise to “take back control” of immigration and the 2019 election manifesto promise to reduce levels of net migration from around 245,000 a year.
Now prime minister Rishi Sunak is facing pressure from his party to quickly introduce measures to reign in the number of visas issued to overseas workers, students and their dependents before next year’s general election, which may be called as early as spring 2024.
But just as Britain threatens to reduce opportunities for workers from overseas, the EU has announced measures to increase work visas for shortage occupation roles.
Earlier this month the European Commission (EC) presented a series of new initiatives in a Skills and Talent Mobility package to make the EU more attractive to talent from outside the EU. The measures include a new EU Talent Pool to match employers in the EU with jobseekers in non-EU countries. Skills shortages persist across the EU, in a range of sectors, and at various skill levels.
The rate of unfilled vacancies in the EU rose to 2.9 per cent in 2022 and is more than twice as high as a decade. With an ageing population, the number of working age people in the EU is forecast to fall from 265 million last year to 258 million in 2030.
In a statement, the EC said that while it will address the shortages by training domestic workers, the EU will also need to attract skills and talent ‘from all around the world’.
“Developing labour migration cooperation with third country partners can also be a mutual gain that feeds expertise and financial support back in the economy of the country of origin,” it said.
Immigration commentator and director of A Y & J Solicitors Yash Dubal says the UK is in danger of losing out by placing politics over economics, claiming: “If Rishi Sunak caves into the voices in his party calling for restrictions on migration and starts to limit skilled worker visas, which are currently uncapped, it will drive migrants to the EU. The UK government appears to be intent on pulling up the drawbridge to placate voters just as the EU is throwing out the welcome mat in a bid to boost its economy.
“Mr Sunak faces an impossible conundrum. On the one hand, he needs to be seen to be doing something in the face of high net migration, but on the other he needs to compete with the EU for skilled workers because British job vacancies remain at a high level and there is a skills gap that needs to be filled.”
The EC proposal includes the creation of an online platform for job offers in the EU as well as talent partnerships with non-EU countries, offering mobility for work or training and the identification of 42 occupations where there are personnel shortages, including IT, construction and health and social care, which are also sectors where the UK is experiencing persistent manpower shortages.
According to EC vice president for our European way of life, Margaritis Schinas, 75 per cent of European SMEs say they cannot find the employees they need and the EU will need 20 million people working in information and communications technologies (ICT) by 2030. It currently only has nine million.
Ylva Johansson, commissioner for home affairs said: “By facilitating international recruitment, the EU Talent Pool will enable jobseekers from non-EU countries to find a job in the EU, and at the same time help EU employers to find the talent and skills they need. This will further complement our efforts to make the EU more attractive as a destination for talent.”