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Tory immigration target risks ‘legal brain drain’

UK law firms may have greater difficulty in retaining best talent from Europe, says law school head

30 May 2017

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The Conservative government's manifesto pledge to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ may increase emigration and risks a ‘legal brain drain’ from Britain, a legal academic has said.

Net migration to the UK fell by 25 per cent from 333,000 to 248,000 in 2016, the Office for National Statistics announced last week, but the reduction was driven by a significant rise in emigration of 40,000 people, mainly EU citizens.

Thom Brooks, head of Durham Law School, told Solicitors Journal the latest ONS figures reflected the uncertainty in the residency status of EU nationals living in the UK, which could negatively impact law firms.

‘While the government could end this uncertainty by making a confirmation either way, they seem to be using this as a pawn in negotiations with EU to help protect UK nationals currently living in Europe. Until such uncertainties are resolved, law firms may have greater difficulty in attracting the best talent from Europe to the UK.

‘The government’s push for reducing immigration may have the unforeseen consequence of increasing emigration. This raises risks of a legal brain drain from Britain – although the ONS net migration figures are notoriously unreliable.’

Jonathan Beech, managing director of immigration specialists Migrate UK, said the rise in emigration among both EU and British nationals was ‘unsurprising’.

‘Until the government ends uncertainty among EU citizens by guaranteeing rights to remain in the UK after Brexit we are likely to see a continuation of these trends, and potentially the start of a Brexit “brain drain” from the UK,’ he said.

Beech urged employers and HR teams wishing to retain EU workers to keep their house in order. ‘Keep HR files of all EU employees endorsed and have passport copies. Carry out your own internal audit to ensure all correct paperwork is in place should the Home Office make a visit.

‘Where possible, inform EU nationals that whilst their status has not changed, they should be aware of their ability to apply for a registration certificate of permanent residence if they want to help safeguard their future in Britain.’

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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