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Agriculture, hospitality and retail would be most affected by cuts to EU migration (Pre-referendum)

06 May 2016

New analysis by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows that employers in different sectors of the UK economy could be affected in very different ways if measures are introduced to restrict the jobs that EU migrant workers can occupy following a vote for the UK to leave the EU.

The new report, Potential implications of admission criteria for EU nationals coming to work in the UK, which was undertaken for the Financial Times newspaper, shows that most jobs in the UK labour market are not eligible for employer-sponsored work visas under the current immigration system.

There will not be clarity until after the referendum about what policies would apply to new EU migrants entering the UK in the event that Britain votes to leave the UK. So the Migration Observatory report uses current government policy to restrict non-EU labour migration as the basis for its analysis – while recognising that post-Brexit immigration policies may well be more liberal than the current rules. A key factor to qualify for a Tier 2 visa at present is a job offer in a graduate-level job position at least £20,800.

The share of the UK workforce that is employed such positions varies dramatically by industry. In 2015, this included only 4% of workers in the ‘Agriculture’ sector and 6% of employees in the ‘Distribution, Hotel and Restaurant’ sector – which also includes retail. The Distribution, Hotel and Restaurant sector is currently the largest employer of workers born in EU countries.

The workforce in other sectors, such as ‘Banking and Finance’ and ‘Public administration, Education and Health’ were much more likely to be in higher-paying graduate jobs, at 34% and 33% respectively. In 2015, these sectors were the second and third largest employers of the UK’s EU migrant workers, respectively.

Dr Carlos Vargas-Silva, the author of the report, said: “Most sectors of the UK labour market now have a significant EU migrant workforce – and many of these are lower paid sectors, such as hotels and manufacturing. Even if the immigration system is redesigned after a Brexit vote, any system that selects EU workers based on skills and pay is likely to hit these sectors hardest.”

The report also notes that while EU exit could mean tighter controls on the migration of EU nationals for work, free movement could also remain largely unaffected if the UK were to follow a model such as that of Norway, which is not a member of the EU but has access to the EU single market as part of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Dr Vargas Silva added: “The biggest challenge with analysing the impacts of Brexit on migration is that we can’t know what policies EU citizens would face until after the referendum. Some scenarios involve almost no change to policy at all, while others would be a huge departure from the status quo.”


For further information contact:
Rob McNeil, Head of Media and Communications, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
e: robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk;  Tel: 01865 274568;  Mob: 07500 970081

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.

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