Robert Goodwill, UK Immigration minister, told peers a post-Brexit annual levy of £1,000 for each EU recruit would be ‘helpful to British workers’ – this suggestion has provoked an immediate business backlash.
The prime minister’s spokesman said it was not on the government’s agenda and suggested Goodwill’s remarks had been “misinterpreted” and he had simply highlighted the skills levy for non-EU migrants which are coming into force in April.
A Home Office spokeswoman stated: “As the minister said, there are a whole range of options we could consider to control immigration once we leave the EU. The people of this country spoke very clearly in the referendum and we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again.”
This could however indicate that the thinking of Home Office Ministers could involve adopting much of the restrictions on non-EU skilled migrants on EU migrants.
Goodwill also mentioned the apprenticeship levy which is to be introduced later this year to pave the way for meeting the government’s commitment to training more than 3 million more apprentices before the 2020 general election.
“In April this year we are also bringing in the immigration skills charge for non-EEA skilled workers. If you want to recruit an Indian computer programmer on a four-year contract on top of the existing visa charges and the resident labour market test there will be a fee of £1,000 per year.
“So, for a four-year contract that employer will need to pay a £4,000 immigration skills charge. That is something that currently applies to non-EU and it has been suggested to us that could be applied to EU.”
He invited the peers to seriously consider including the immigration charge for EU skilled migrants within their inquiry report, even though he was not able to speculate on what the final immigration policy would be when the final settlement was reached.
“It would be helpful to the British economy and to British workers who feel they are overlooked because of other people coming into the country getting jobs they would themselves like to get,” he said.
Business organisations criticised the reaction with Séamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors saying it would hit businesses dependent on skills from abroad.
He said: “The UK needs these companies to do well if we are to make a success of Brexit. Businesses are already working with ministers to improve the homegrown skills supply, but this tax will only damage jobs growth at a time when many businesses are living with uncertainty.
“They simply cannot endure the double-whammy of more restriction and then, if they do succeed in finding the right candidate, the prospect of an extra charge.”
As the percentage of EU Nationals being employed in the current UK workforce is sitting at around 15 per cent – The London Chamber of Commerce said that the levy would mean “effectively fining” a lot of firms. “Rather than making a populist pitch to an apparent concern of voters of leave voters, the minister should ask why EU nationals are here doing so many jobs?” said the chamber’s Sean McKee.
Liberal Democrats’ business spokesman, Don Foster, also criticised the idea as “the most idiotic thing to come out of a minister’s mouth since ‘red white and blue Brexit’”, – a reference to comments made by Theresa May last month. “I’ve yet to meet a single business who would hire from abroad if they could find the skills they need here,” he said.