Brexit uncertainty poses a serious threat to Scotland’s £5 billion digital technologies sector and its ability to recruit and retain staff, according to a trade body report published on Monday.
The latest Brexit survey by ScotlandIS – which represents around 300 software, telecoms, IT and digital agency businesses throughout Scotland – advises digital tech companies to openly address the issue of Brexit and the uncertainties facing EU workers and their ability to keep working in the UK.
The digital technologies industry is already facing a skills shortage and Brexit uncertainty poses a serious threat for firms of all sizes that rely on skilled EU nationals who are in high demand in the international talent market, the report says.
The survey reveals that 75% of ScotlandIS members questioned following the 2016 referendum said that Brexit would have a negative or very negative impact on their access to staff with the right skills.
In 2015 there were around 181,000 non-UK EU nationals living in Scotland representing 3.4% of the total population.
Scotland’s software and IT businesses alone employed 4000 non-UK EU nationals in 2015, accounting for 11.5% of all 34,782 employees in Scotland’s software and IT businesses.
Svea Miesch, research and policy manager at ScotlandIS, said: “Understandably the future status and rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK is a subject of particular importance and concern for our members.
“Many of Scotland’s digital technologies companies employ staff from other EU countries but that is not the only issue.
“We have companies that are owned by non-UK EU nationals, and EU students studying at Scottish universities are an important source of future talent for our industry.
“It’s important to note that nothing will change until at least March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU.
“Until then, the UK has to guarantee freedom of movement for citizens of other EU countries.”
The briefing, created in partnership with Scotland’s largest law firm and ScotlandIS member, Brodies LLP, focuses on the rights of non-UK EU nationals and recommends steps that firms can take to support employees wanting to protect their residency rights post-Brexit.
Brodies’ employment law specialist Lynne Marr, recommends starting with an overview of the immigration status of all employees.
She said: “No immigration procedures have been necessary for most EU nationals so far other than the usual right to work checks carried out for all employees at the start of employment and that means many employers do not have this information to hand.
“Employers will need this information to assess the potential impact on their business if non-UK EU nationals amongst their staff leave the country post-Brexit or if additional immigration controls make them more difficult to employ in the future.
“Companies that employ several EU nationals might also want to organise a session with an immigration law expert to provide their staff with objective information on their options.
Some employers are already going further and offering staff access to an immigration expert for face-to-face session to discuss their specific circumstances or even financial support, such as staff loans, for those who seeking more comprehensive legal advice.