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Brexit 'brain drain' feared as 1.2 million highly-skilled EU workers consider quitting UK

The NHS relies on the skills of thousands of non-British workers (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Almost half of non-British highly skilled workers are considering quitting the country in the next five years, new research has revealed.

The post-Brexit ‘brain drain’ could see hundreds of thousands of EU nationals heading home potentially leaving UK businesses understaffed and under-skilled, consultancy firm Deloitte said.

As a whole, one in three foreign employees are thinking of leaving within the same period – that’s about 1.2m jobs out of 3.4 million migrant workers in the UK.

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Just over a quarter said they were considering leaving within three years. And some 58% believe it will be difficult for their boss to find a suitably skilled British worker to replace them.

The study will add more urgent pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to clarify the rights of EU nationals who have made their home here following the referendum of a year ago.

May has been criticised for her offer to give residency rights to some three million EU citizens in the UK, with EU Council president Donald Tusk, saying that “the UK’s offer is below our expectations”.

What foreign nationals already here rate about the UK (Source: Deloitte)

“The UK’s cultural diversity, employment opportunities and quality of life are assets that continue to attract the world’s best and brightest people,” said David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte north-west Europe.

“But overseas workers, especially those from the EU, tell us they are more likely to leave the UK than before.

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“That points to a short- to medium-term skills deficit that can be met in part by up-skilling our domestic workforce but which would also benefit from an immigration system that is attuned to the needs of the economy.”

The fruit growing industry recently highlighted the challenges facing British commerce as many farmers said there had been, or was likely to be, a significant drop off in pickers from Europe they rely so heavily on at harvest time.

How foreign workers view the UK from afar (Source: Deloitte)

Similarly, the NHS has seen a 96% drop in nursing applications from overseas workers since the vote.

More than one in ten workers in the UK economy are non-British, some 3.4 million, with EU nationals making up the bulk of workers (2.2m).

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Deloitte questioned 2,242 EU and non-EU people, half living in the UK and half outside, about their views on how attractive Britain was as a potential place to live and work.

It was conducted before the recent General Election, which saw May’s Commons majority wiped out.

The survey revealed that the UK remains an attractive place to live and work. For those living outside the country at present, the UK was ranked as the world’s most desirable place to live, ahead of the US, Australia and Canada.

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Deloitte added: “It suggests that if the government enables cross-border hiring after 2019 [when the UK leaves the EU], UK businesses will continue to face few problems attracting workers from the EU and beyond – should they choose to do so.”