Labour mobility in transition: a multi-actor study of the re-regulation of migrant work in 'low-skilled' sectors (LIMITS)

Inside a warehouse with tall shelves


“Social dialogue on migration in the post-Brexit work environment”

Alongside the effects of the Covid pandemic on the UK economy, the ending of freedom of movement of labour as a result of Brexit is radically changing the labour mobility landscape of the country, with critical implications for work and employment in low-skilled sectors. 

Research on stakeholder responses to these changes is limited; we know little about how employers are adapting their human resource strategies, the impact of visa rule changes, and the extent to which they are re-designing work or developing new skills among the workforce. Little is known about how employers, workers, unions and other stakeholders engage in dialogue over the changing migration environment.  

Research overview

This three-year research programme, funded by the ESRC and conducted by a team of social scientists at the Business School and the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, is investigating the impact of the post-Brexit regulation migration for work on the UK labour market.  

It looks at how employers and workers shape these mobility transitions and how they engage in dialogue with each other and with other stakeholders. It will also consider how COVID-19 has impacted these transitions and dialogue. 

Focusing on the impact of the effects of the new Points Based Migration system for low-skilled labour, we will use quantitative and qualitative methods to explore the experiences of employers and workers in four sectors of the UK economy that rely on migrant labour and which have been impacted significantly by Brexit and by the COVID-19 pandemic:  

  • Hospitality 
  • Warehousing/transport services
  • Social care  
  • Food manufacturing.  

The research will contribute in-depth knowledge on changing recruitment practices, (re)training and labour substitution strategies through a national-level survey of employers, twelve qualitative workplace studies of management practices and the experience of migrant and British workers in the transition, as well as expert interviews, with a view to identifying opportunities for new jobs creation towards a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable recovery.

Our wider objective is to map and inform how social dialogue between industry, statutory and civil society actors develop and influence employers’ strategies and workers’ experiences in a post-Brexit, post-Covid UK. Our co-production approach includes the voices of stakeholders in the UK in general and in the Yorkshire and Humber region in particular, by building new evidence through knowledge and practice exchanges between academics and practitioners to stimulate new perspectives on migration for work and critically inform future migration, employment and social policies in post-Brexit UK.


This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).