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Firms worried about cross-border workers after Brexit

By Margaret Canning

The future of thousands of workers who commute from over the border for work is a key concern for small businesses in Northern Ireland, according to research today.

The FSB's latest Brexit report said that nearly 60% of small businesses with EU workers were worried about finding people with the right skills in the future.

It called on the government to guarantee a "right to remain" for EU workers in the UK as soon as possible.

Wilfred Mitchell, policy chair of the FSB in Northern Ireland, said employers in border areas of Northern Ireland were particularly worried about the potential complications of employing residents of the Republic.

He said: "Special consideration needs to be given to businesses in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK which has a land border with another EU member state, as tens of thousands of people commute over this border on a daily basis. Any restrictions could have a direct impact on small firms' ability to recruit and retain the workers they need."

UK-wide, almost all firms reported that they had no experience enforcing a points-style immigration system for recruiting workers, and over half said they were worried about having to enforce immigration rules following Brexit.

Mr Mitchell said: "It is crucial small firms are given time after the UK leaves the EU to prepare for any new immigration arrangements. There must not be a sudden cliff edge preventing small firms from accessing workers.

"This means having sensible transitional arrangements towards, and phased implementation of, any new immigration system."

He said most small firms lacked a HR department to deal with complex immigration procedures.

"Restrictions on immigration will be felt more acutely by small businesses,"he added.

Negotiations must safeguard the welfare of small firms who do business with the Republic, he added.

"Brexit negotiations must take account of those small firms that have business relationships with the EU, especially those between the Republic and Northern Ireland, as well as the wider UK. Brexit will not work for small business if there are difficulties in doing business across the border."

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