Will we suffer
an EU brain drain
after Brexit?

Businesses that employ highly skilled EU workers may have difficulty retaining them after Brexit, says a recent study by KPMG.

In a survey of 2,000 EU workers in Britain, more than half with PhDs (55%) and 49% of those with postgraduate degrees said that they were planning to leave the country or ‘actively considering it’ after 2020.

Of those, 53% of people working in IT said they would leave or were considering doing so.

The report also shows that the higher their income bracket, the more people were thinking of leaving – for example, 77% of those whose salary was more than £200,000, compared with 33% of those earning under £20,000.

EU migrants make up just over 3% of the UK workforce. If this survey represents their view as a whole, it could mean that a million people feel ‘less welcome and valued’ as Brexit approaches, as they are ‘pro-European’ and believe that the UK was ‘no longer the place that attracted them.’

Karen Briggs from KPMG said: ‘We expect to see increased competition for talent between employers, and numerous firms seeking to supplement their workforce with AI [artificial intelligence], robotics and automation.’

Briggs added: ‘Our survey reveals a serious situation for employers relying on EU staff, particularly those who employ independent, in-demand, educated and younger workers.
The UK is vulnerable to losing IT professionals, creative minds, engineers and specialist finance professionals.

‘Compounding this issue we’re seeing a fall in applications from EU citizens to UK universities,’ she added. This is backed up by figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) which show that fewer EU citizens than ever are applying to
UK universities.

UCAS has also seen a slump in applications for nursing qualifications since the government replaced bursaries with loans.

And it is not just EU nationals who may be thinking of relocating, or at least seeking to keep their free movement options open. The number of people born in the UK who have successfully applied to become EU citizens is rising, too.

In 2016, the figure was 2,478, but last year there was an increase of 165% to 6,555.

The most popular country for British nationals is Spain, followed by Ireland.

In 2016, Ireland granted 98 passports to UK nationals, but in the first half of 2017, the country had received half a million applications.

Last year, Germany naturalised the highest number of UK nationals of any EU country: 2,702 – four times the amount in 2015.

The Netherlands, Sweden, France, Belgium and Cyprus also granted hundreds of passports to British residents, and it is estimated that, in total, there are 1.3 million British-born nationals who live in the EU and hold EU passports, according to the UN.

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato believes that the rise in British nationals applying for citizenship in another EU member state indicates a vote of no-confidence in Brexit and warns of a ‘brain drain’ of young people with expertise from Britain.

She said, ‘If this attempt to buy an insurance policy turns into a decision to vote with their feet and leave the UK, it could result in a brain drain that may threaten Britain’s economic prospects, as it is likely to be the young and skilled who decide to move.’

Karen Briggs from KPMG agrees: ‘This could create a high-end talent pipeline problem and a shortage of chemists, linguists, and other professionals. At the very top end of the graduate market, those who are most sought-after, and thus most highly rewarded, will be the biggest issue for employers.’

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