Imagine if Britain suddenly lost 10% of its doctors and 4% of its nurses. Or 98% of its seasonal agricultural workers and a majority of those who run the hospitality sector.
Yesterday, migrant workers and their supporters from across the country attempted to demonstrate what the UK would look like if a majority of EU migrants were to leave the UK, either by choice or through deportation following Brexit, by striking from their jobs for 24 hours.
Gaining control over immigration was a key reason many people in the UK voted for Brexit. As a result of a campaign which focused heavily on the negative (most of which can be classified as 'fake news'), a number of voters were led to believe that workers from the EU, especially those from Eastern Europe, have taken British jobs, driven down wages and had become a drain on social services.
It is difficult to quantify whether or not the free movement of EU migrants' costs British people jobs because the very act of an EU migrant being employed and circulating money into the economy could directly or indirectly create new employment opportunities for locals.
Indeed, according to the Guardian, HMRC figures show that EU migrants more than pay their way. Those who arrived in Britain in the last four years paid GBP2.54bn more in income tax and national insurance than they received in tax credits or child benefit in 2013-14. The Office of Budget Responsibility has estimated that their labour contribution is helping to grow the economy by an additional 0.6% a year.
The size of the UK-born workforce seems to have peaked in 2015, at around 26.5 million people. In addition, according to Bloomberg, the unemployment rate has declined markedly, to 4.8%, the lowest in over a decade. The labour market is now close to "full capacity" according to the Office for National Statistics. This naturally means that a majority of new jobs will need to be filled by immigrants.
Although some of the jobs we will desperately need to fill over the coming decades to meet the requirements of an aging and technology dependent population, including care workers, doctors and nurses, software developers, engineers and research scientists, can be met by retraining some of the local population, it is a fantasy to believe British people can fill every gap in the labour market.
This is as true for unskilled jobs as it is for skilled work.
Of the 4.6% who currently do not have jobs, some are unemployed, but many are 'unemployable.'
Like it or not, there is a difference.
In a tone tinged with arrogance, Theresa May's government has consistently said that it plans to 'control our borders', rejecting free movement and taking the best and the brightest of EU talent and rejecting those they do not see as adding value.
But what if EU nationals no longer want to come here? Following the rise in hate crimes, the anti-EU rhetoric of right-leaning newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Express, the high refusal of EU Permanent Residence applications for seemingly trivial reasons and the misrepresentation by the Vote Leave campaign on EU migrants' impact on living standards, who could blame skilled and unskilled workers from offering their services to other, less hostile nations in the bloc?
There are signs that this is already happening. In the 2016 harvesting season, farmers reported a dramatic drop in the number of seasonal workers coming to the UK. And in a recent article entitled Brexit, Migration and the Labour Marker, Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King's College, London stated, "I'd be surprised if net migration from the EU were running even at half its current level in a year - and it could be much less. It would, of course, be hugely ironic if it was the referendum result - rather than any change in policy - that led to the government hitting its "tens of thousands" target. Equally ironic, but much more serious, will be the economic consequences. The fiscal impact of a large fall in EU migration for work purposes will make the post-referendum hole in the public finances even bigger.
There are enormous opportunities for EU nationals to continue to contribute to the UK economy and culture. The actions of those taking part in the One Day Without Us campaigns across the country gave an insight as to how much Britain needs EU migrants, both now and in the future. The British government needs to wake up to this fact and stop deliberately creating a hostile, uncertain environment for EU nationals, whose skills and talent we will miss greatly when no longer here.
We can only hope it is not too late.
The team at Reiss Edwards consists of some of London's leading team of immigration lawyers. If you require expert legal advice on obtaining a Permanent Resident Card, British Citizenship, or any other matter relating to Brexit, please call us on 020 3744 2797.
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