There have been many reasons why people came to the UK to work (if they didn't want to work, they were unlikely to have made the effort to leave their homes). Most, if not all refugees don't possess EU passports, so they already have to apply for visas. I've written other posts about our moral duty to lead the world in showing compassion to these people who would, and have historically enriched the UK anyway.
There are two types of EU immigrant workers:
- EU citizens who live abroad: Specialised recruitment agencies embedded in countries like Poland and Romania usually find these workers for employers like fruit farmers who generally need seasonal workers. Employers are used to providing accommodation and other services to people who have no permanent home here. There's probably no reason why such workers can't continue to come to the UK post-Brexit... assuming they still want to come to a country whose citizens have voted to keep them out. Visas would be needed and no doubt bureaucracy will create difficulties for both the workers and the employers, but where there's a will...
- EU citizens who have already decided to live here: These are typically highly skilled, young people who have decided for whatever reason to seek employment in the UK. They move here first, often squatting with friends, and then look for work. These, to our cost, are the people we will lose.
Problem is, they're no longer coming here to seek their future. Last year the UK told them loud and clear that they're not welcome and might even be thrown out in 2019. It's unlikely that will happen, although not impossible, but who in their right minds would still choose to come here rather than any of the other 27 nations keen to exploit their talents. We've already lost a few great people not willing to risk trying to live here long-term. If they get an offer of a better job from within the EU, they'd be crazy not to take it if their next move might not be possible in the UK.
So it's all very well saying 'we will have our pick of who we want to let in', but if they're not already here, how do we recruit them? And even if we could find ways of contacting them in Warsaw, Paris and Madrid, how do we interview them properly? Then assuming we make an offer and it's accepted, we do not want the responsibility of helping them find homes... and that's if we can instantly get them a visa. It's simply not how it works now, and it won't work differently come the 2019 cliff-edge. You can't take the risk to find work here, so you take your skills elsewhere.
It's not going to hit us in 2019 (even if we have worked out how to do it by then - fat chance!), it's hitting us NOW.
But there is one silver lining. The banks are already leaving, so they won't be needing EU jobseekers, which will take a bit of pressure off the top end of the London housing and help to reduce property prices. Too bad if you already own one of course (or if you think using taxes on banks was a good idea).