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Business forced another dose of uncertainty on immigration

Mark Hilton, London First Executive Policy Director, Immigration and Skills

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The last fortnight has been dominated by the Prime Minister’s landmark Brexit speech and the first signs of the government’s industrial strategy. It was timely then that, together with representatives of London First membership, I met with Paul Regan, Head of Migration Policy at the Home Office. 

Part of Regan’s scope is to make recommendations to Ministers on how to control EU migration post Brexit.  We debated the merits of regional visas and Regan was clear that nothing at this stage has been ruled out. 

Depressingly but unsurprisingly, there seems to be just two certainties: that it is highly likely immigration policy will be more restrictive in all areas; and business faces a prolonged period of uncertainty.  This is a huge concern, given that access to talent is at the forefront of members’ minds.  We made a strong case for an immigration system that supports, rather than hinders, London’s place as a leading global talent hub.

It still remains the Home Office’s intention to consult on further changes to non-EU migration policy for workers and students, as mooted in the Home Secretary’s conference speech in October.  Proposals include assessing how the Resident Labour Market Test (where employers are required to advertise job vacancies to UK workers first) could be made tighter, and introducing greater differentiation in student immigration. The latter could potentially mean greater restrictions on which universities international students can study at, what they can study and what their rights are whilst studying.  But there isn’t a firm date for this consultation.   

We do know that further changes on non-EU migration, announced last year, will be introduced in April; including the immigration skills charge. 

International students

Last autumn The Times leaked news of the government having evidence that, based on exit checks, less than 1% of international students actually overstay their visa. Regan denied this, suggesting the figure is actually higher. The institutions present, made a strong case for the strength of their student compliance and linked this to our demand to remove students from the net migration target.  It is clear that international students do not take the places of UK students, they actually help to subsidise their costs. It is crucial that we maintain a strong offer for international students in the face of fierce competition from the likes of Australia, Canada, and America.

Regan reiterated the government’s decision to protect the rights of the three million EU citizens in the UK, who will be allowed to stay here if they wish. However, the detail of this – including the cut-off date – is still not clear and as the Prime Minister pointed out in her Brexit speech, it all hinges on reciprocation from our EU neighbours. 

Members were quick to point out that the continued uncertainty is highly unsettling for their EU staff, but they are doing what they can, through websites and seminars, to inform their employees of the residency options open to them.  London First will continue to press this issue with government.

Next steps-have your say

The above concerns, as well as our wider thoughts on immigration policy, have formed the basis of our submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into immigration. In addition to the written submission, London First is discussing further opportunities for engagement with the Committee, and will keep members updated.

In the coming weeks, we will be launching the findings of an ambitious project we have embarked on with PwC which examines the contribution of both EU and non-EU workers to the London economy. This evidence base will be used to inform future policy and lobbying throughout Brexit negotiations.

 

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