Author : Mark Hilton
Home Secretary is one of the hardest gigs in government. Over the years, many big hitters have been defeated by the size of the brief and unexpected baggage emerging from their department.
Windrush was Amber Rudd’s downfall.
Sajid Javid has now been given the challenge of grappling with this most difficult of in-trays and he’s already taken a welcome step in committing to end the “hostile environment” in immigration policy making.
We wish him well, for it is crucial that he delivers the best outcome for post-Brexit immigration. Now is the time to re-set the UK’s system, to create something that works for the economy and builds public trust.
London First is well placed to offer a few words of advice to the new Home Secretary, given that we have a good working relationship with the Home Office, but the freedom to speak our mind and tell the truth about what business, and the UK economy, needs.
First, he must face up to the fact that the Home Office cannot deliver a new immigration system that works for the whole of the UK singlehandedly.
Sure, the department should take the lead on enforcement, ensuring that those that come to the UK play by the rules, and those that don’t are removed. But immigration is about much more than controlling our borders and protecting our public services.
For one, policy should be geared towards attracting the skills and experience the country needs, ensuring business can access, in a simple and managed way, talented people from overseas. People from the EU and elsewhere are clearly an important part of London’s workforce, across many of London’s key industries; for example, 50% of London’s construction employees were born outside of the UK and 70% in hospitality. They deliver substantial economic benefit: our research shows the total net additional Gross Value Added they contribute is £83bn, around 22% of all London’s GVA.
That is why the responsibility for immigration should be shared with other departments including the Treasury and BEIS, who can help deliver policy that is evidence based and business friendly, necessary if the UK is to show itself to be open to the global market.
Second, while the Brexit negotiations roll on, act now to get the system for non-EU migration working properly. Sweep away policy that was conceived in a different era and is damaging. Start by abolishing the arbitrary net migration target and reclassifying international students as visitors, not migrants. Re-introduce the post study work route so that students can switch from study to working for UK businesses who want to hire them, bringing their skills to the UK economy.
Urgently review the immigration cap on Tier 2 work visas. Some 21,000 visas are available each year for businesses to recruit skilled non-EU workers. But, as the pipeline of EU workers has started to dry up, most notably for nurses in the NHS, the demand for non-EU workers has increased. This has resulted in demand for visas massively outweighing supply for months on end now, meaning that employers have been unable to access workers paid £65,000 or less, way above a nurse’s, engineer’s or technology worker’s salary. Let’s not forget that these employers have already tried to recruit from the UK talent pool but have been unable to find appropriate candidates. A clear need for these potential overseas workers has been demonstrated, and their credentials vetted. Unless the cap is increased, or shortage occupations like nursing removed from it, it will continue to be a block on growth, and that would lead to business leaving these shores.
Taking these actions will set a solid foundation for our third piece of advice: deliver a post-Brexit immigration system that is fit for Global Britain.
With input from over 200 of London’s leading employers and the national business groups, London First has set out a pragmatic and realistic proposal for what the UK’s future immigration policy could look like.
We are proposing three key routes into the UK post-Brexit:
- Access for those that meet an agreed minimum salary threshold, to be set by government in consultation with business. This threshold would be below the current thresholds for non-EU citizens, allowing employers to adjust, before beginning to rise over time.
- Access for those that help meet the UK’s skills and labour shortages. Business acknowledges that we need to reduce the demand for low skilled workers by working with government to bring about a real change in the UK’s skills system.
- An unrestricted route into the UK for ‘exceptional talent’. Business anticipates this would be set at a low volume, but the UK must remain open to the entrepreneurs and innovators that start businesses, create jobs and help grow the UK’s economy.
Alongside ensuring that the end of the transition cut-off date for EU citizens already living and working here to qualify for the government’s “settled status”, this proposal will ensure the continued access to the talented people the UK economy needs, either alongside – or without – an agreement on preferential access for EU citizens.
Combined with an effective system that reduces unnecessary administrative costs, alongside the robust checks and balances the UK needs to restore public confidence in immigration, we believe that this new approach could deliver a fair and managed system that also meets the needs of business.
We are looking forward to working with Sajid Javid to deliver this agenda and keep London and the UK shining on the world stage.