7 key points from our submission to the Migration Advisory Committee on EU workers

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Return of the MAC


The Migration Advisory Committee is an independent, non-statutory body that advises the government on migration issues. We’ve submitted many a responses to the MAC on non-EU migration, however this time the MAC returned with a call for evidence exploring EEA workers in the UK labour market. A pretty big commission required a pretty big responses from us, so here are 7 key takeaways from our response:

1. In case you missed it – manufacturers face an acute skills shortage

If this is news to you – where have you been? Year after year EEF research reveals that manufacturers are struggling to find the right people with the right skills. Almost three-quarters of manufacturers are concerned about finding the skills their business need in the next three years. Skills are fundamental for manufacturers to fulfil their growth ambitions. Just this week we published our latest Investment Monitor and when looking at the barriers to investing in automation what came up? A lack of appropriate skills.



2. Manufacturers across the UK, across all sectors, rely on EU nationals to fill their job roles.

Three-quarters of manufacturers employ at least one EU national in their workplace. This compares to less than 10% who employ non-EU workers (we’ll get onto why that’s the case later!). There is some variation by sector but the bigger difference is when we look at the geographical split with London and the South East and the East Midlands dominating.



3. EU nationals do not just fill low skilled roles, they fill director and senior manager jobs too – and if they do not now they quickly do.

While companies report that the highest volumes of EU nationals work in process, plant and machine operative roles, this is quickly followed by skilled trades and associate professional and technical roles such as engineers.

What’s more is that while some EU nationals start by filling lower skilled roles they quickly progress to mid and highly skilled posts. 26% of manufacturers say they recruit EU nationals because of their work ethic and when we dug into this a little deeper, employers told us that EU nationals had a greater ambition to undertake training and climb the ranks of the business.




4. The ability to post workers to other EU members is vital but is currently being missed out of the debate.

The current negotiations is focusing on EU nationals already in the UK labour market. But what the discussions aren’t looking at which are vital for UK manufacturers is the ability to post workers to other EU member states (and vice versa). This generally comes in three forms:

  1. intra-company transferees
  2. agency workers and
  3. contractors.

One in ten manufacturers specifically recruit EU nationals via an intra-company transfer programme.  UK businesses frequently send their workers to the EU to support their trading relationships. This could be for servicer-related activity, installation, project work or training.

5. Applying the same or similar restrictions to EU workers as is the case for non-EU nationals would be damaging to companies’ ability to find the workers they need for their business.


If you talk to any company that recruit non-EEA nationals they will tell you the system is complex and costly. There are huge hurdles manufacturers have to jump over simply to recruit the best person for the job. This is no easy task. Employers have to pay a minimum salary threshold, be recruiting for at least graduate level job, pay an immigration skills charge and probably pay for external advice to apply for a visa and get the person they want to fill their job in their business.

  • Manufacturers would feel the effects of a £30,000 minimum salary threshold – more than a third (36%) of companies say none of their EU workers earn more than £30,000.
  • Some 12% of manufacturers say all their EU nationals earn more than £30, 0000.
  • Applying an education threshold of Level 6(graduate level) would also rule out many skilled trades – which is one of the key roles EU nationals fill in manufacturing companies.
  • Almost a third (36%) of manufacturer say that none of their EU nationals currently have a skill level qualification of level 6 and above.


6. Restricting the length of stay for EU nationals to come and work in the UK in the future would have a different impact depending on 1) the length of stay permitted and 2) the job roles that companies were filling.




7. Manufacturers are 100% committed to training – don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.




You can read our full response to the MAC here.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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