Brexit: minister hints at new hiring ‘charge’ for firms

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill has suggested businesses may have to pay a fee for recruiting staff after Brexit
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill has suggested businesses may have to pay a fee for recruiting staff after Brexit
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Businesses could face a charge for recruiting staff from the European Union after Brexit, the immigration minister has hinted.

Robert Goodwill appeared to raise the prospect of a system similar to a £1,000-per-employee annual levy that will be imposed on firms hiring non-EU migrants later this year.

He also suggested that a seasonal scheme for agricultural workers such as fruit pickers coming to Britain for short periods was being considered.

EU rules on freedom of movement are seen as a crucial factor in the negotiations over the UK’s departure from the bloc.

The Government has said it will seek controls over the numbers of people coming to the country but the shape of any post-Brexit immigration system has yet to be outlined.

Mr Goodwill referred to an annual £1,000 charge on businesses for every skilled worker they employ from outside Europe, which will take effect in April.

For a four-year contract, for example, it would mean employers face a £4,000 fee.

Mr Goodwill told the Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee: “That’s something that currently applies to non-EU. That may be something that’s been suggested to us that could apply to EU.

“But we are not in a position to really speculate as to what the settlement will be post-Brexit negotiations.”

Mr Goodwill also indicated that a seasonal agricultural workers route was being weighed up.

Under a previous scheme, fruit and vegetable growers were allowed to employ Bulgarians and Romanians for up to six months at a time, with an annual quota of 21,250.

The programme closed when restrictions on migrants from the two countries were lifted at the start of 2014.

Mr Goodwill said: “I had a delegation from the National Farmers’ Union at the end of last year saying could we introduce a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme for non-EU people.

“That’s certainly one of the options that could be open to us post-Brexit.”

He said such an approach, which could apply to either EU or non-EU migrants, would not contribute to net long-term migration numbers as they cover those coming to Britain for at least a year.

A seasonal scheme has less impact on local communities because people stay for a short time often in temporary accommodation, the Home Office minister said.

Net long-term international migration from both the EU and the rest of the world has been running at near record-levels of more than a third of a million - well above the Government’s target of less than 100,000.

A range of options for an immigration system have been proposed following the Brexit vote, including a work permits regime or a so-called “emergency brake” approach.

Mr Goodwill said a number of models are being explored but told peers it would be “pointless” to speculate ahead of the negotiations.

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said employers accept that immigration policy will be changing but warned charging £1,000 for each EU worker would hit businesses dependent on skills from abroad.

He added: “The UK needs these companies to do well if we are to make a success of Brexit.

“Businesses are already working with ministers to improve the home-grown skills supply, but this tax will only damage jobs growth at a time when many businesses are living with uncertainty.

“They simply cannot endure the double whammy of more restriction and then, if they do succeed in finding the right candidate, the prospect of an extra charge.”