Theresa May Proposal on Migrant Jobs Would Be 'Ineffective'

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The Jaasia Polski Skelp (Jaasia Polish Shop) in Stockport, U.K. on March 25, 2015. Theresa May is searching for a way to control immigration after Brexit. NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A proposal to require EU migrants to have a job offer before coming to the U.K. would do little to cut immigration, could mean firms recruiting more overseas, and may even empower gangmasters, experts have warned.

The Daily Mail reported Tuesday that British Prime Minister Theresa May is considering putting forward a proposal in negotiations on the terms of Brexit that would mean EU migrants wanting to work in Britain would need to have a job secured before arriving.

But Charlotte O'Brien, a senior lecturer at York Law School, says the proposal "does place an incentive on firms who rely on migrant labour to more actively advertise and recruit overseas, or through the EU jobs portal."

"It could give more power to gangmasters," she adds, "who already have the machinery for mass overseas recruitment—resulting in people arriving and possibly having quite precarious employment statuses, and in some cases living quite controlled lives."

And, O'Brien argues, the proposal would likely cover a small proportion of EU migrants.

"The proposal…arguably targets those seeking jobs; it would not mean they couldn't come, but it would force them to transfer their jobseeking to an earlier point," she says.

"The people actually excluded would be those who would otherwise have arrived looking for work and didn't find it—the long-term jobseekers who have never worked in the U.K.," O'Brien continues. "The evidence suggests that there are not many long-term EU national jobseekers who have never worked in the U.K."

Jonathan Portes, principal research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research tells Newsweek that, in isolation, this proposal might be complex and fail to achieve the aim of reducing immigration.

"If the requirement is simply for migrants to have a job offer prior to arrival, this is likely to be both administratively complex and—more importantly—ineffective," says Portes. He adds that recruiting overseas might make it obsolete: "It is easy to see how this could be circumvented by employment agencies or simply internet-based recruitment."

And Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, says it could be difficult to enforce: "Unless the U.K. intends to introduce tourist visas for EU citizens visiting Britain—which seems unlikely at this stage—then any EU citizen could enter the U.K. as a tourist and look for work," she says.

"Because travel to and from the U.K. is cheap and easy, a requirement to have a job offer lined up in advance is unlikely to make a big difference to EU citizens' ability to secure work here."

May's government is working out its negotiating position in advance of triggering the "Article 50" EU exit mechanism, which will kick-start at least two years of talks on a new relationship between Britain and the EU.

The government has said it will make securing controls on people who can come to the U.K. from the EU a red line in the talks, but the shape of its proposed policy beyond this is as yet unconfirmed. May has already ruled out the points-based system some Brexit campaigners pledged during the EU referendum campaign.