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Will immigration control prevent small business growth?

  1. Visa
    Francois Badenhorst

    Francois Badenhorst Deputy Editor Staff Member

    Posts: 91 Likes: 18
    2 |

    In a recent documentary on BBC’s iPlayer called ‘Who Should We Let In’, Ian Hislop takes a long look at how Britain, until 1906, had a proud open border policy. It was seen as a central part of the British identity. Immigration control, in fact, was seen as fundamentally un-British.

    Naturally, the situation is altogether very different in 2017. But it’s remarkable to contrast the two eras. From fringe issue to a poisoned chalice, just saying the word 'immigration' is enough to start a debate these days. For many Britons, it is the main concern (and, indeed, prompted many voters to opt for a Leave vote).

    But it’s not the job of UKBF to dwell on the merits and demerits of immigration. Rather, we’re more interested in how any potential shift in immigration policy might affect our members. Small businesses in the UK, when they do employ foreign workers, overwhelmingly opt for EU citizens.

    The reason is obvious: the process of bringing in non-EU talent is arduous, expensive and slanted towards to big businesses. European workers, of course, were classed under the EU’s freedom of movement policy.

    When the UK leaves the EU, things will change. Nothing has been confirmed - but it seems unthinkable that Brexit won’t include some reintroduction of immigration control for EU citizens. And it’s not just the ones coming in, though. Many Europeans are already present and many are actively employed in small and micro-businesses. The status of these individuals is yet to be confirmed, either.

    So what are the statistics? In a report entitled ‘A Skilled Exit’, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimates one-in-five small businesses employ EU staff. The majority of EU workers employed in small businesses are mid and high-skilled: 21% unskilled, 47% mid-skilled, 32% high-skilled.

    “Typically,” the FSB explains in its report, “small employers rely on EU workers in mid-skilled roles such as office managers, construction workers and hairdressers, though access to lower and higher skilled staff remains important too. Overall, EU workers play an important role in plugging skills gaps and as employees in labour-intensive sectors.”

    Given how intertwined the UK’s small businesses are with EU migrants, the concern is that the administrative burden of ending freedom of movement might fall on business owners. Commenting on the report’s findings, the FSB’s national policy director Martin McTague said: “Small businesses are often not equipped with HR departments to manage a complicated or costly process – nor should they be responsible for enforcing immigration policy.

    “Indeed, Government must remember this, not only as it designs and implements post-Brexit immigration policy, but as it contemplates the role of employers in the right to remain process. The burden of proof for documenting the status of EU citizens residing in the UK cannot rest on small businesses.”

    The UKBF impact

    “I think it is some rather than many,” writes KM-Tiger, reflecting on what small and micro-businesses would be affected by tighter immigration limits. “And it will vary by sector.

    “There’s no doubt that agriculture is a sector that relies heavily on unskilled foreign labour. But I understand that before the EU there were special arrangements so I would think something similar will be put in place post-Brexit.”

    Haunted Worlds is one of the businesses that won’t be affected directly. Since he works in the security industry, “we wouldn't employ anyone who didn't hold the certification themselves, ie. MLA Locksmiths or SSAIB installers.”

    Among other members, though, the concerns are more acute. Atmosbob recounts a friend’s staffing troubles: “His factory uses a particular machine which makes an ingredient used in other food products. There is only enough work for one in the whole of the UK. He employs 40 people on average. Three production managers he had to pay removal expenses to get them to come to Cornwall. His staff is split 50-50 between local women and EU immigrants. He pays well but cannot get more locals, or any men, to work for him. 

    “If, after Brexit, the EU workers go home and he cannot replace them he will retire early and close the factory. What he produces will then be imported from France or Belgium.”

    The Clearance also notes that “it will depend on the business” but “a number of foreign workers will do jobs which others do not want to do. From our experiences, foreign workers will jump at job opportunities compared to those born here and will put in the hours. I think this country will suffer in the long run if severe caps on immigration are enforced.”

    As is customary on UKBF, we’ll give the last word to the Byre. Reflecting on seasonal labour, in particular, he writes: “They work harder than any Brits ever would. Under no circumstances can one employ Brits for manual labour. They are just too bone idle. On a profit share or pay-by-results, yes. But on the clock? Never. A tailor's dummy would get more work done!”

  2. The Byre

    The Byre UKBF Ace Free Member

    Posts: 5,562 Likes: 2,208
    Good heavens! I had no idea that I enjoyed such an exalted position!

    But back to the Batmobile!

    We have used immigrant labour in the past during Summer months to get all the daft, small jobs done that we do not have staff for - you know, stuff like fixing fences, working on machinery that has been standing idle, cleaning guttering and all the other 1001 tasks that otherwise get ignored or left undone.

    In future, they can come here on a tourist visa (that is IF Brexit ever happens - and given the levels of competence of both the government and Her Majesty's loyal opposition, that's one giant IF right there! Expressions featuring the organisation of urine fests in a brewery spring to mind!) and we shall pay them directly to their home country accounts from our mainland Euro accounts.

    The best way to deal with gratuitous bureaucracy is to ignore it - but to do so intelligently!

    For example, before the days of the Customs Union and when we were putting on rock and hip-hop shows across Europe, rather than pish about with carnets and vehicle inspections, when we came to a boarder, the trucks pulled up behind the customs sheds and all those who had to go for a pee would get out. I went ahead, clutching a sheath of A4 paper and also went into the offices to use their loos. (Most of the crew were drinking beer as we drove, so visiting the loo was very welcome!)

    We then came out and any customs flunkies always assumed that we had been given the green light to just go ahead.

    It worked every time and I was genuinely sad to see the boards taken down, as it always gave us a good laugh as we drove off!
    Posted: Jul 11, 2017 By: The Byre Member since: Aug 13, 2013