A third of non-British workers in the UK – 1.2 million people – could leave the country over the next five years, according to a report warning of a possible post-Brexit brain drain.
The survey showed that while the UK was seen as an attractive destination for work among people outside the country, attitudes to Britain among foreign workers already here had shifted since the referendum.
The authors of the study, the business advisory firm Deloitte, said the findings raised important issues for the economy – suggesting an “upskilling” of UK workers was needed alongside “making better use of automation” to help boost lagging productivity.
The survey suggested highly-skilled workers from EU countries were the most likely to consider leaving the UK before 2022 and 70% of them warned it would be difficult for a UK national to replace them in their role.
It was released as Brexit negotiations focus on the future rights of citizens – both at home and within the bloc – after the UK splits from the EU.
Video: PM sets out deal for EU citizens in UK
The union organisation, the TUC, reacted to the Government’s plans by claiming people were being used as “bargaining chips” while the CBI demanded a “low-cost, speedy and simple solution to be put in place for EU citizens to establish their right to settlement in the UK”.
Deloitte said that EU workers here had concerns over feeling welcome and on the cost of living – with the pound’s plunge since the Brexit vote damaging the value of the money they receive when it is converted to euros.
David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte North West Europe, said: “The UK remains a highly attractive place to work for people from around the world.
“Despite political and economic uncertainties, more people are attracted to live and work in the UK than anywhere else in the world.
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“Nine out of 10 overseas workers would consider moving to the UK if the right opportunity presents itself.
“The UK’s cultural diversity, employment opportunities and quality of life are assets that continue to attract the world’s best and brightest people.
“But overseas workers, especially those from the EU, tell us they are more likely to leave the UK than before.
“That points to a short to medium term skills deficit that can be met in part by upskilling our domestic workforce but which would also benefit from an immigration system that is attuned to the needs of the economy.”
Angus Knowles-Cutler, Deloitte’s vice chairman, said it left a “golden opportunity” for the UK to boost productivity by embracing automation, which, he argued, was already beginning to transform the world of work.
“Brexit does not change the fundamental factors shaping this but has altered calculations on how to drive change for best advantage,” he said.
“If immigration and upskilling can help fill higher skill roles, automation can help to reduce reliance in lower skill positions,” he added.