What does the immigration White Paper mean for recruiters and the UK's labour market?

Oliver O'Sullivan

On 19 December 2018, the Home Secretary published its long-awaited White Paper entitled ‘the UK’s future skills-based immigration system’. Following the recent findings of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) who were commissioned by the Home Office to report on the anticipated impact of Brexit on the UK labour market, the White Paper proposes the government’s key principles for the UK's immigration system once the UK has left the EU.

Below we have outlined the key proposals of the White Paper, with some significant consequences on the recruitment sector. 

Summary of key changes for workers:

Our view:

The current proposals to end free movement for EU nationals in place of a system whereby employers are required to sponsor workers at a skill level of RQF3 or above has very significant ramifications on the supply of low-skilled labour from outside the UK.

First, RQF3 excludes most occupations within the construction, retail, tourism, social care, warehousing, transportation, restaurant and cafe sectors, and administrative positions in all companies. Only senior managers in these sectors would be seen as qualifying for a work visa.
Second, the rules for employers currently prohibit sponsoring a worker who is then outsourced to another company regardless of who is employing the migrant. There cannot be an employer with an ‘umbrella’ licence who sponsors workers on behalf of other companies unless the companies have the same ownership.

While there is mention of a short-term 12 month route for low-skilled workers, it is yet to be established which countries would be considered ‘low-risk’ although the language of the paper does suggest it would be countries such as Australia, Canada, the US, Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea and other developed countries who currently qualify for visa-free travel to the UK. It remains to be seen if the UK will intend to offer preferential treatment to certain EU countries over others. 

The UK government wants employers who traditionally rely on low-skilled labour to drive alternative means of recruiting from the local labour market, which many companies will see as in contrast to the evidence that they have offered the Home Office of the general inability to be able to recruit UK nationals for certain roles.  

Get your workforce planning guide for Brexit

The above proposals are highly likely to impact many UK employers. Therefore, we have created an up-to-date guide for employers to enable decisions to be made on their future workforce, which is available for you to download. 

Download the guide

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Oliver O'Sullivan

Oliver O'Sullivan


Oliver specialises in providing immigration advice to companies and to individuals.