Last week, The Conservative Party Conference saw a further potential onslaught on Immigration Policy.
The Home Secretary, Ms Amber Rudd, announced that in a bid to reduce net migration, the Government would be examining whether there was a need to ‘tighten’ the test companies have to undertake before recruiting overseas migrants to ensure that they are only filling gaps in the labour market and are “not taking jobs British people could do”. She expressed concern that British businesses may not be training local people and commented: “I want us to look again at whether our immigration system provides the right incentives for businesses to invest in British workers”. She went on to announce that companies would be forced to declare the number of overseas workers they were employing.
In her speech, Ms Rudd also announced a crackdown on higher education with plans to limit the number of students from outside the EU coming to study at lower-quality institutions. She said: “I want to reduce net migration while continuing to ensure we attract the brightest and the best”. This was in a similar vein to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt’s, pledge to reduce reliance on overseas medical professionals and to make the NHS more self-sufficient.
Quite rightly, in response to the above, the Deputy Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Josh Hardie commented: “Businesses will not welcome further restrictions on high-skilled migration from key trading partners around the world, especially as a series of changes were only announced earlier this year”. He added: “At a time when we need strong links globally to seize new opportunities after the referendum, being seen as open to the best and brightest is vital. And we should be clear that business does not see immigration and training as an either/or choice. We need both”.
In addition, the Head of Employment and Skills Policy, Seamus Nevin who is a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD), echoed Mr Hardie’s view that: “The UK has a record level of employment, so immigration is not hurting jobs. IoD members who employ migrants also train British workers”. He added, “The evidence is clear that migrants benefit the economy”.
Thankfully, on the morning after her speech, Ms Rudd did a U-turn on Radio 4’s Today programme. Ms Rudd said the naming and shaming of companies employing foreign nations was not ‘definitely’ going to happen.
It seems that Ms Rudd is seemingly impervious to the fact that businesses already face an uphill task bringing skilled foreign workers to the UK at considerable expense before they are able to recruit a non-EU national. In the vast majority of cases, unless a job is on the shortage occupation list or attracts a salary of £155,300, a company must check whether there are any UK resident workers (referred to as the Resident Labour Market Test) to do the job before they can recruit a non-EEA national. Furthermore, companies are subject to rigorous compliance requirements before being able to recruit overseas migrants and have to pay significant sums in fees to obtain visas for them. The vast majority of companies would not go through this time consuming and expensive process if they could find the skills they needed within the UK workforce.
The Conservatives current negative stance on Immigration is potentially hugely damaging to businesses and surprising given that leading Brexiteers had previously said that Britain’s ability to control EU migration would enable it to introduce a new immigration system to allow employers to access skills from the around world. The current Government’s aim is to simply reduce migration. Given the advent of Brexit it is imperative that the UK is able to ensure it can compete in a global market, which will require talent/skills that may well need to be sourced from overseas. A shut down of borders is likely to have a detrimental impact on business and in turn the UK economy.
Whilst Immigration needs to be controlled to some degree, the Government needs to develop Immigration Policies which will help businesses to ensure that they have access to the skilled workers they might need. It should not ignore important studies that have been undertaken such as that by University College London (UCL) published in November 2014, which stated: “A key concern in the public debate on migration is whether immigrants contribute their fair share to the tax and welfare systems. Our new analysis draws a positive picture of the overall fiscal contribution made by recent immigrant cohorts, particularly of immigrants arriving from the EU… we performed extensive sensitivity analysis, which does not alter our main conclusions: immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU”.