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UK: Cross-sector coalition sets out blueprint to reform immigration system

A coalition of prominent business and education bodies has written to both Prime Ministerial candidates calling for the Government to commit to clear action on reforming the immigration system to avoid worsening the chronic skills and labour shortages.

London First, in partnership with techUK, British Retail Consortium, Recruitment & Employment Confederation, UKHospitality, Federation of Master Builders, Universities UK, Innovate Finance, Association of Labour Providers, The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), and North West Business Leadership Team, collectively represent tens of thousands of businesses and employ millions of workers across all sectors and regions of the UK.

The group is calling for four reforms to: lower the salary threshold proposed in the Immigration White Paper from £30,000 to £20,000, extend the temporary work route for overseas workers from one year to two years, revise the sponsorship model to make it easier for firms of all sizes to bring in the overseas talent they need, and reinstate the two-year post-study visa for international students to work in the UK post-graduation.

The joint letter calls on the next Prime Minister to keep the UK at #fullstrength:

“Our country needs a fair and managed immigration system that keeps it open to all levels of talent that our economy and local services sorely need. It is crucial that this system recognises the benefits of international talent whilst ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively, necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.

“Without the ability to access international talent, many of our world-class sectors are at significant risk. As the UK prepares to leave the EU in the near future, it is imperative that the Government puts in place measures that will avoid employers facing a cliff-edge in recruitment, and works towards building a successful economy that is open and attractive.”

More than 60% of all jobs in the UK currently fall under the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, which highlights the risk in setting the future level too high for vital services such as health and social care. Research based on ONS data shows that in manufacturing around 30% of jobs are paid between £20 – 30k, and in retail, 23.2% jobs sit in this bracket. Bringing down the level to £20,000 also moves it in line with the proposed skills threshold and the realities of the labour market. This can then be gradually increased as the economy improves.

The other reforms to the Immigration White Paper include:

  • A two-year temporary work route – increased from one year, which would allow companies to bring in overseas workers for a temporary period of up to two years, with a reciprocal cooling-off period. Workers should also be allowed to switch from this route to other routes, such as a skilled visa, while they are in the UK;
  • A reformed sponsorship model – reducing the costs and bureaucracy of the current system, making it easier for SMEs to use, as well as enabling endorsing bodies to sponsor freelancers and self-employed workers; and
  • Increase mobility of talent – by reinstating the two-year post-study visa for international students (increasing from the current time limit of just six months), extending the current youth mobility scheme to include EU citizens, and creating an improved 90-day business visitor visa — so that companies can move staff across offices to work on projects.

Commenting, Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive at London First, said: “It is vital that the Government does all it can to keep the country at full strength at a time of great uncertainty. The thousands of businesses we represent are clear that without a bold move now on immigration reform, the skills shortages many companies face risk becoming even more acute.

“At a time of economic uncertainty, and a tight labour market, the future immigration system must support businesses across the country, and go hand in hand with increased investment in skills and training. These proposals will ensure that the UK can operate at full strength and attract talent needed to keep businesses competitive.”

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive, Recruitment & Employment Confederation said: “A healthy UK economy will need people coming from abroad to contribute at all skill levels, across a wide range of sectors. Our immigration system needs to be managed, but it must also be open — helping businesses to grow and create jobs for citizens and new arrivals alike. To build a truly Global Britain, we should welcome our friends, colleagues and family members who come here to add to our society and our economy, and the new Prime Minister and his team need to take these proposals from the Full Strength coalition seriously.

“Concrete responses to the proposals in our letter, which — amongst other things — calls for a two-year temporary work route (instead of one year as currently exists), will take some edge off the uncertainty around access to labour that Brexit is exacerbating.”

For more information:
London First

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