EEA-workers in the UK labour market: Interim Update

In July 2017 the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) was commissioned by the Home Secretary to report on the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration, and the impacts of that migration on the UK. The intention of such a report was to establish an evidence base to shape the new migration system that is expected to come into force at the end of the implementation period in 2021.

We have provided a summary of the recent interim update that addresses the responses of calls for evidence from employers and regions:

Why do businesses employ EEA workers?

  • Employers responded that they aren’t deliberately filling vacancies with EEA workers, it is normally that they are simply the best, or most qualified, for the job.
  • Specific examples of why EEA workers may be the best candidates included that they have the necessary skills and they are willing to do jobs in more difficult conditions.
  • Many employers think EEA workers are more motivated and flexible – examples include they are willing to work longer hours or night shifts.
  • Some employers in lower-skilled sectors feel they have an image problem for UK-born workers such as lower wages.
  • Low unemployment rates in the UK have led employers to look to EEA workers to fill vacancies.
  • Wages were not mentioned often as a deciding factor for employing EEA workers, and employers do not think of themselves as employing EEA workers because they are cheaper to employ.

What is the attitude of possible restrictions on the flow of EEA migrants?

  • Employers are concerned about the possible restrictions and what the future of migration might be.
  • The MAC highlighted that employer’s opinions are important but won’t be the only thing considered in their analysis.

What are employer’s views on the impacts of restrictions on hiring EEA migrants?

  • Employers explained they would devise strategies to mitigate the impact of possible restrictions.
  • An example would be training UK-born workers to fill skills shortages. However, this may have limited impact for jobs that require a few years training to be able to do.
  • It is not clear how effective these would be as we do not know what the restrictions will be.

Are employers producing contingency plans?

  • Many employers’ business models are based on EEA migrant labour being readily available, so these will be problematic if there are significant restrictions.
  • Businesses do not seem well-prepared to deal with a changing and tighter labour market where they may be competing much more intensely for labour.

What are the regional themes?

  • If EEA migration was 0, the population of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would stop growing, and even fall in the next 20 years.
  • EEA migrants also contribute to slowing the ageing of the population, so if this was reduced then the dependency ratio would increase, (but it should also be noted that they themselves also contribute to this when they cease working).
  • The Scottish Government argue that areas with high population outflow should be combatted with higher immigration levels.
  • The conclusion is that what is best for an individual employer is not necessarily best for the welfare of the resident population.

To read more on the MAC’s comments on particular sectors, please click here.

We will keep you updated on any further developments.

If you are concerned about any issues raised in this blog, please contact our business immigration specialist Charlotte Ashton 0161 926 1592 or email

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @HRGuruUK for important employment, HR and business immigration updates.