In her speech at the Conservative Party conference this week Home Secretary Amber Rudd made reducing net migration a central theme.
There are three key proposals: to require companies to publish the proportion of international employees they have, to introduce tougher rules for students studying courses perceived to be of lower quality, and a tighter test for employers to satisfy, before recruiting from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).
But what could be the impact on retailers?
Retailers’ ability to recruit
A central concern for retailers will be if these proposals impact their ability to recruit, in a market where recruiting enough people can already be a challenge.
The biggest impact for retailers is likely to come from the proposals about reducing the number of non-EEA students in the UK.
Non-EEA students are eligible to work during term time and holidays for set numbers of hours per week, and they will often take up retail or hospitality work.
Therefore, if the number of students entering the UK reduces, this will impact retailers’ ability to recruit from this group.
It also remains to be seen what will be proposed for EEA national students post-Brexit.
In practice it is unlikely that the tighter test, that employers will be asked to satisfy before recruiting from outside of the EEA, will have a big impact on retailers.
This is because most retail roles will not be eligible for the Tier 2 visa that this test will apply to.
Publishing numbers of international employees: what will this mean for retailers?
The proposal to publish the proportion of international employees in an employer’s workforce would be an entirely new requirement.
Therefore, we do not know what information employers would be required to provide, where they would be required to publish it or what the penalty for failing to do so would be.
One of the reasons for asking employers to provide this data would appear to be to encourage employers to offer more training to the British workforce and, as Amber Rudd has described it, to nudge people into “better behaviour”.
This would suggest that where an employer has what is perceived to be a high number of employees from outside of the UK, they might be encouraged to offer training or other opportunities to British workers.
This could, however, create a difficult situation for employers.
It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on grounds of their race or nationality and if an employee has the right to work in the UK, and they are the best candidate for a job, they should be offered that job.
Employers might also find that tensions may arise between British and non-British employees when the data is published.
What steps can retailers take now?
With the potential uncertainty about the ability to recruit EEA nationals post-Brexit, and the increased focus on reducing net migration into the UK, retailers should consider reviewing how they conduct their recruitment so that they are searching from as wide a pool as possible.
However, retailers should always have in mind that they are subject to the laws regarding unlawful discrimination on grounds of race and nationality, and therefore if a worker does have the right to work in the UK to do a particular role, then they are entitled to be treated in the same way as any other worker when being considered for that role.
Sarah Harrop is an employment lawyer at Addleshaw Goddard