NIESR Press Release - Immigration policy in post-Brexit Britain -New research published by NIESR

Published: 16th April 2019

The latest issue of the National Institute Economic Review, to be published on 25th April, focuses on post-Brexit immigration policy. Leading experts in the field provide in-depth analysis of all sides of this question, with five articles on issues ranging from looking at various options, including the restriction of low skilled migration, to employer sponsorship and youth mobility schemes. The papers consider the role of employer needs and public attitudes in policy making and the low skilled vs high skilled migration debate.

The five articles, introduced by an overview from NIESR’s Associate Research Director Heather Rolfe are:

  • Immigration Policy From Post-War To Post-Brexit: How New Immigration Policy Can Reconcile Public Attitudes And Employer Preferences, by Heather Rolfe, Johnny Runge and Nathan Hudson-Sharp (NIESR);
  • Low-Skilled Employment In A New Immigration Regime: Challenges And Opportunities For Business Transitions, by Anne Green (University of Birmingham);
  • Is Employer Sponsorship A Good Way To Manage Labour Migration? Implications For Post-Brexit Migration Policies, by Madeleine Sumption (Oxford University);  
  • Youth Mobility Scheme: The Panacea For Ending Free Movement? by Erica Consterdine (University of Sussex);
  • High-Skilled Good, Low-Skilled Bad?’ British, Polish And Romanian Attitudes Towards Low-skilled EU Migration, by Alexandra Bulat (UCL).


As Britain prepares to leave the EU, immigration policy has come to the top of the policy agenda. Rolfe et al explore the likely impact of proposed restrictions on immigration post-Brexit (detailed in the Home Office Immigration White Paper, of November 2018, using evidence from focus groups from NIESR studies of employers and of the general public. It combines an assessment of what is needed to meet the needs of employers, the economy and to address public concerns, finding that there is more consensus than there is often considered to be.

Drawing mainly on evidence from employers on the role of migrant workers in selected sectors with a substantial proportion of low-skilled jobs, Green explores the challenges and opportunities they face in transitioning from free movement to a new post-Brexit immigration regime. She concludes that, with low skilled migration likely to be subject to tight restrictions, employers will be under pressure to improve the attractiveness of jobs to British workers or to automate.

Sumption’s paper examines the implications of immigration policies based on employer sponsorship, as proposed by the Government for skilled migration. She argues that they are more able to match supply and demand but also that such a policy would reduce overall volumes of migration to the UK, especially of highly skilled migrants. This is principally because of the additional burden which employer sponsorship presents to for migrants and for employers. As she points out, given the higher fiscal contribution of skilled migrants, this will have negative economic consequences for the UK relative to current arrangements. At the same time, it may become easier for non-EU migrants to enter via the skilled route compared to the current, pre-Brexit work permit system because of reduction in bureaucracy, though not cost.

The government has advocated temporary migration as a potential way of meeting employers’ low skill needs, including an expanded UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme. Drawing on policy analysis alongside survey and interview data from Australian YMS migrants, Consterdine’s paper finds many are in skilled occupations and concentrated in London. This leads her to conclude that the Government’s assumption that mobile young people can help fill low skill gaps may be misplaced.

Through qualitative fieldwork with British, Polish and Romanian citizens living in two local authorities in England, Bulat’s paper shows what participants understand by ‘low-skilled’ and how there is broad support of those who ‘contribute’, almost regardless of skill level.  Migrants’ narratives of downskilling, and their aspirations to progress to skilled work, also illustrate why the category of ‘low-skilled’ migration needs to be seen through a more critical lens in research and policymaking.

NIESR’s Heather Rolfe, who edited the collection, said: “The papers highlight the importance of understanding the perspectives and actions of employers, the public and of migrants themselves when it comes to making policy. There is a clear gap between the research evidence and the Government’s White Paper proposals, with the public voicing stronger support for low skilled migration than is often assumed”.  In relation to future migration levels, she added: “The authors also expect that migration to the UK from the EU will continue to fall as potential migrants become aware of the UK’s plans to end free movement”.

The Review will also include NIESR’s analysis of the UK and global economic outlook, which will be detailed in separate press releases under embargo until 00.01 on Thursday 25 April.




Notes for editors:

The research reflects the authors’ views and does not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions that they may represent.

For full copies of these papers and queries for the authors please contact the NIESR Press Office: Paola Buonadonna on 020 7654 1923 / p.buonadonna [at]   / press [at]  

The National Institute Economic Review is a quarterly journal of NIESR. Published in February, May, August and November, it is available from Sage Publications Ltd ( or at subscription [at]    

NIESR aims to promote, through quantitative and qualitative research, a deeper understanding of the interaction of economic and social forces that affect people's lives, and the ways in which policies can improve them.

Further details of NIESR’s activities can be seen on  or by contacting enquiries [at] . Switchboard Telephone Number: +44 (0) 207 222 7665

Press release archive