News that EU immigration to the UK has fallen to its lowest level since 2013 is putting pressure on small firms, says Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry.
He says European business owners and employees are central to the UK’s economic success. “One in five small employers rely on the skills of EU citizens and – with employment levels at record highs – one in three now say finding the right staff is a major barrier to growth.
“A sudden end to free movement on November 1st will make a bad situation worse. Business owners need time to prepare for such a radical change, particularly as 95% of small employers have no experience of using the points-based element of our immigration system.
“If we do crash out on 31st October, you’ll then have an environment where businesses taking on new staff are expected to distinguish between those EU citizens who have just arrived and those already resident in the UK, which could prove a challenge.
“The looming threat of a sudden no-deal exit has the two million EU citizens that are yet to secure settled status living in fear, especially those that have planned a short break or business visit on or after 1 November, with no guarantee yet from government that they will safely be admitted on return. The application process has long been beset by glitches and accessibility issues – applications are now taking longer to approve.
“We absolutely have to avoid a future scenario where our European colleagues find they’re without the right paperwork to stay in the UK. Achieving this should be fundamental to the Government’s no-deal contingency plans, details of which have been slow to emerge.
“Looking to the future, small business owners have been left without any sense of what our immigration system will look like post-Brexit. Clarity and guidance is needed. It’s vital that the voice of the small firms that make-up 99% of our business community is heard as that new system is formed.”