One in six London workers are EU nationals as employers warily eye immigration restrictions

Jasper Jolly
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Demonstrators Gather in Parliament Square To Support Guaranteed Legal Status For EU Citizens
The status of EU nationals has been an early point of contention in Brexit negotiations (Source: Getty)

More than one in every six workers in London are EU nationals, according to new research which underlines the vulnerability of the capital to restrictions on immigration after Brexit.

Some 17 per cent of the London labour force come from the EU, by far the highest proportion among the British regions, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the Migration Policy Institute.

London’s financial and business services sector is the biggest employer of European nationals, with over 190,000 workers.

Read more: For the sake of tech, a new approach to Brexit must be pro-migration

The construction sector is the most exposed proportionally of the major industries in the capital, with a third of workers, while more than a fifth of the retail and hospitality sectors hail from the EU.

The rights of EU nationals to continue working in the UK have been an early point of contention in the Brexit negotiations. The government has said it will allow EU nationals already settled in the UK to stay permanently, although they will have to actively apply for residence status.

However, Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to adjust her immigration target, which calls for net migration into the UK to be reduced to below 100,000 per year.

London’s economy is “reliant” on foreign workers in some industries, according to REC chief executive Kevin Green. “This is a really significant problem that London will have to address.”

Read more: Editor's Notes: Tory immigration policy will harm the City and our economy

Migration figures show some EU nationals are leaving the UK, which could harm the generally higher-skilled City professions as well as lower-skilled construction and services workers which make the City tick.

“Clearly there will be a problem with the level of house building and infrastructure going on,” said Green.

Across the rest of the UK EU nationals account for seven per cent of the labour force. This represents a much greater proportion than the share of EU nationals in the population as a whole, at around five per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics, meaning EU nationals are more likely to be economically active than the rest of the population.

Northern Ireland and the East of England were the regions with the next greatest share of EU workers, at nine per cent and seven per cent respectively, the REC said.

Green also suggested migration policy should be set by an independent commission, similar to the former Low Pay Commission.

Green said: “Decisions about the future immigration system are too important to be subject to political whim – we need policy to be built on sound evidence and data.”

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