Study shows people support overseas recruitment by British firms to address staff shortage
Empty supermarket shelves are seen in a supermarket on July 23, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
TWO-THIRDS of the public say British businesses should be allowed to recruit from overseas to address staff shortages, a new report published on Tuesday (14) revealed.
The report, Immigration: a changing debate, by the independent thinktank British Future, draws on the latest findings from Ipsos MORI research that has tracked changing public attitudes to immigration across twelve waves of research since 2015.
According to the research, 65 per cent of the public agree that employers should be allowed to recruit from overseas for any job where there are shortages.
The study also revealed that public attitudes to immigration are more positive than negative. It added that 77 per cent of the public say recruitment from overseas should be allowed for positions in key services such as health and social care.
Interestingly, support rises to 86 per cent among people aged over 65.
Another key finding of the study is that most of the public (55 per cent) support recruitment from overseas for lower-skilled jobs that are hard to fill from within the UK. Three in ten say it should not be allowed.
As many as 67 per cent of the public say recruitment from overseas should be allowed for temporary seasonal work in sectors such as fruit-picking and hospitality, the study said.
According to the survey, the number of people who want to reduce immigration is now at its lowest level (45 per cent) since 2015, while more people than ever before would be happy for immigration to increase (17 per cent).
This year, the proportion of people wanting to reduce immigration (45 per cent) is almost the same as those (46 per cent) who want to keep it at current levels or higher for the first time.
“Public attitudes to immigration are warmer today than at any point since 2015, as opinion has gradually shifted since 2016. The debate has moved on from the numbers fixation of the last decade. People still want an approach that offers fairness and control – but there is public consent for the immigration that our economy needs,” said Sunder Katwala, director of British Future.
“It means the government has political space to allow more recruitment from overseas to fill the workforce gaps causing shortages, while employers address longer-term issues like training and pay.”
As many as 46 per cent of the respondents to the survey believed that immigration had a positive impact on Britain. The figure was just 35 per cent in February 2015.
Gideon Skinner, Research Director at Ipsos MORI, said: “As recent stories have highlighted, even though it may have slipped down the public agenda in recent years, immigration continues to have important social and economic implications for the country, and understanding public views as the situation changes is vital – with many still thinking it is discussed too little.
“The public mood has shifted over time to become more positive, and there is clear support for using immigration to help fill job shortages in key sectors. But opinion is still not unanimous on key questions such as the total level of immigration, or on the best system to deal with refugees (even before Afghanistan), which means the debate is still not over.”
The report revealed that 55 per cent of the public are not satisfied with the government’s handling of immigration. The report also included sections on public attitudes to new immigration from Hong Kong and to UK refugee protection, though fieldwork was conducted prior to the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.
“The UK is experiencing a serious shortage of labour right now, affecting every sector across the country. Re-opening the economy has created a short-term crisis, but a number of factors mean that the jobs market will remain tight for years to come,” said Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).
“While businesses need to look to how they build their future workforces, it’s vital that government prioritises solving the immediate crisis. One way to do that is by making sure the new immigration system flexes when there is evidence of skills and labour shortages, allowing employers to hire workers from abroad to help fill gaps in essential sectors like logistics. “