Heathrow to hospitals pay to prevent workers from leaving UK after Brexit

UK employers from Heathrow airport to the London School of Economics are hoping to stave off a post-Brexit exodus of lower-level immigrant workers by covering their application fees for permission to stay on.

Pub chains, high-street retailers, hospitals and other businesses are worried that a 65-pound ($81) fee for people from other European Union nations to file for settled status may lead to a drain of staff in unglamorous but vital roles. The protection is available to those who have been in the U.K. for five years.

Heathrow said on Monday it would fund applications for 1,500 workers, or 20 per cent of the payroll, hours after Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on her deal with the EU, plunging the Brexit process deeper into uncertainty. MAG, which runs Manchester airport and London Stansted, offered similar backing Tuesday for 400 of its 6,000 staff including security guards, catering personnel and car-park attendants, as well as some managers.

“With near full employment in the UK, it’s not very easy to replace staff, and there just aren’t the British natives willing to step into these posts,” said Ian Brinkley, economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, an association for human-resources professionals. The offer to cover the fee is “also a way for companies to address a general anxiety among employees about whether they’re wanted in Britain. It says we value you and want you to stay.”

Universities, NHS

Academic institutions including the Brunel and City universities have also offered funding, according to the Unison union, which has said Britain faces a labor shortage after Brexit if nothing is done to encourage poorer workers to sign up for the government’s settled-status scheme.

While the plan will be thrown open more widely to applicants once Britain leaves the EU, it’s already available to people in a number of positions, including those working for the National Health Service. Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said last month that about 1,000 EU nationals had registered so far.

Oxford University Hospitals said Monday it would help 1,500 people from other EU countries, about 10 percent of its workforce, pay their fees. Chief Executive Officer Bruno Holthof, who is Belgian, said the NHS is particularly dependent on staff from around Europe.

Public-sector employers may struggle to fund applications from budgets that are already severely stretched, Brinkley said, though some may have no choice. “If you’re a hospital and you’re about to lose half your nurses, you can’t afford not to act,” he said.

Pub chains Fuller Smith & Turner Plc, Young & Co.’s Brewery Plc and The City Pub Group Plc are all offering financial help in light of their dependency on foreign bar staff and waiters. Young’s, which has 1,800 EU nationals on its books -- more than a third of the payroll -- will also offer weekly sessions to help employees complete complex paperwork and include English instruction in its training programs.

“We want to try to make up for the awful hostility towards our colleagues and immigration from some certain politicians,” Young’s CEO Patrick Dardis said in an interview. “The service sector is so reliant on these people.”

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