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U.K. Mulls EU Migration Cap, Charge for Hiring Skilled Labor

Updated on
  • Minister Goodwill weighs sector-specific post-Brexit measures
  • Options include charging companies 1,000 pounds per EU worker

The U.K. could set an annual limit on migrants entering the country from the European Union and a new fee for companies recruiting from the bloc, the government minister responsible for immigration suggested, outlining options for a post-Brexit visa regime.

One possibility would be to require businesses to pay an “immigration skills charge” of about 1,000 pounds ($1,200) for every skilled European worker they bring into the U.K., Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill told lawmakers in London on Wednesday.

He suggested ministers would consider an overall cap on the number of EU migrants let in each year, replicating arrangements now in place for people coming from outside Europe. 

“The Brexit negotiations give us the opportunity to control the numbers that come,” Goodwill told the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee. “We are not saying we’re going to prevent people from coming here to work. We are just going to do that in a controlled way.”

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office later played down the idea of charging companies for recruiting EU workers. The idea is “not on the government’s agenda,” May’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London, insisting the minister had been misinterpreted by the media.

Charging Firms

May’s government has made regaining control over migration from the EU a red line for the Brexit negotiations due to be triggered by the end of March. She has committed to reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” annually from more than 300,000 currently. Businesses have expressed concerns that they could struggle to recruit the people they need if new restrictions are too tight. 

Goodwill said the government could set different rules for sports people, graduate-level workers and low-skilled migrants from the EU.

“In April of this year we are bringing in for non-EU workers coming into the U.K. an immigration skills charge,” Goodwill said. “If one wishes to bring in an Indian computer programmer on a four-year contract on top of the existing visa charge there will be a fee of 1,000 pounds per year. So for a four-year contract that employer will need to pay 4,000 pounds. That’s something that currently applies to non-EU. That may be something that’s been suggested to us that could apply to EU.”

The minister made clear that no options had been ruled in or out for consideration, and that the new arrangement would need to be agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations with the EU. 

“We already have a cap in terms of non-EU” migration “and that’s one model that we could look at” for European migrants, Goodwill said. Different rules could be applied to workers in different sectors, he added.

Taxing Success

Supporters of close links with the EU criticized the plan.

“This would be a tax on successful businesses,” said Anna Soubry, a former Conservative business minister who supports the pro-EU Open Britain campaign. “Stopping businesses from bringing in the workers they need will do nothing to help unemployed Brits, and will do everything to damage our economy.”

The opposition Liberal Democrat party described Goodwill’s suggestion as an “idiotic” gesture to “anti-immigrant” populism. “Be under no illusions, this plan would kill off British businesses,” said the party’s spokesman on commerce, Don Foster.

The British Chambers of Commerce warned that companies already face recruiting difficulties and that any new charges would make it harder to attract the talent they need.

“Implementing this measure would be harmful to individual firms and overall growth, as it would make the U.K. less attractive to both investment and talent,” BCC Director General Adam Marshall said in a statement. “Imposing what is effectively a further tax on U.K. firms may simply mean that they choose not to recruit or expand as planned.”

— With assistance by Thomas Penny

(Adds comment from business lobby in final two paragraphs.)
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