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Business puts forward plans for new post-Brexit immigration approach

Influential business group, London First, has put forward what the capital’s employers want to see from the UK’s new immigration approach.

Following input from over 200 of London’s leading businesses, the proposal sets out 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. The 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 shortages. Twice yearly reviews by an independent and appropriately resourced Migration Advisory Committee would identify where the UK has skills shortage, and recommend the volume and duration of visas based on need.

• A 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.

Combined with an effective system that reduces unnecessary administrative costs – the government is promising a “light touch” online system – alongside the robust checks and balances the UK needs to restore public confidence in immigration, this new approach could deliver a fair immigration system that works for the UK.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, said: “Continued access to the people our economy needs is the number one concern for business. The PM’s reassurance for EU citizens already working here is a welcome first step, but it’s taken a year to get this far and we still have a long way to go. Government has said it wants business input and this is the first test of that commitment. Business leaders across all sectors have worked together to jointly propose a realistic way forward that will manage immigration while ensuring our economy can continue to grow. We are looking forward to the government’s response.”

People born in the EU make up over one in ten of London’s workers (682,300 people and 12% of London’s total workforce) and they make a significant contribution to London’s economy: around £28.5bn each year.

Employers across the capital rely on people born outside of the UK to fill skills shortages and help grow their businesses: 15% of people working in London’s financial services were born in the EU, nearly one in three workers in the construction sector (30%) and over one in ten doctors in the NHS (13%) were born in European Union countries.

Jasmine Whitbread continued: “Business knows we need to bring about a real change in UK’s skills system, getting more British people trained to do the jobs we need. But you can’t get away from the fact that people from the EU and the rest of the world are an absolutely vital part of the UK’s ongoing success – we must keep our door open to the people we need post-Brexit.”

– Ends –

Supportive quotes from London’s business leaders:

Anthony Impey, CEO of technology company, Optimity, said: “Optimity has grown rapidly over the past three years, because of our ability to recruit great people. Around a quarter of our team are from the EU and elsewhere and the uncertainty is creating a great deal of personal angst amongst those who consider themselves at risk. The lack of clarity about what lies ahead undermines the environment we’ve created. This is a pattern I’ve seen across the tech sector and it poses the most serious threat to the sector’s future potential.”

Mark Reynolds, CEO of construction company, Mace, said: ““The uncertainty caused by the upcoming Brexit negotiations makes it more important than ever that Britain’s construction industry is ‘match-fit’ and ready to deliver the homes, transport links and infrastructure the UK needs.

“We are also very aware that employers need to invest more in skills and innovation to make our sector more productive. At Mace, we are investing £350m over the next few years in innovation and new ways of quicker, safer and higher quality ways of delivering projects. But with 20% of the UK construction workforce expected to retire over the five years, combined with a significant numbers of EU workers on our sites, our industry will face a significant challenge in finding the people we need to deliver what the country needs.”

Inderneel Singh, Managing Director, The May Fair Hotel, said: “The success of our business can be directly attributed to our global workforce. They bring skills, experience and enthusiasm to our properties in London and Manchester. As we continue to grow with our latest development in London’s Leicester Square, we want to see a commitment from central government to continue to support businesses like ours who rely on such a varied employee base. As a company we are already investing in in-house training with different partners and developing our industry’s future leaders through our collaboration with Imperial College London Business School, but we want to see a clear plan from policy makers which will continue to encourage great talent to the UK post-Brexit.”

Ken Shuttleworth, Founder, Make Architects, said: “At Make, we employ 22 different nationalities and it is vital to our industry that a structured, balanced and robust immigration strategy is in place post Brexit. Any salary threshold must allow us to recruit across levels, including young talent from different cultural and educational backgrounds that hugely benefit our business.

“We also need to ensure visas reflect the time it takes to complete a degree in architecture. There is little point saying we are open for business if international architecture students have to undergo an onerous process of re-applying for visas every few years.”

Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of the Berkeley Group, said: “Right now, we cope with skills shortages by employing foreign labour. This makes up 60-70% of the total construction workforce in London. Certain trades, like dry-lining and carpentry in particular, come from Eastern Europe. Personally, I see Brexit as a great opportunity to resolve the skills crisis.

“The first critical step is to secure transition rules which allow skilled European labour to remain in London.  We also need a much more joined-up, long term approach. Government, business and further education providers have to make sure there are enough of the right courses in the right places to meet demand, delivered by teaching staff who are actively involved in the industry. Put in the effort and we can train up British labour. Berkeley has doubled the number of apprentices across our business over the last 12 months from 374 to over 750.”

About London First

London First works with business leaders, local and national government to make London the best city in the world in which to do business.

We worked to get a Mayor for London, drove the campaign for Crossrail and, most recently, lobbied for government action on airport capacity in the South East, leading to the decision to build a new runway at Heathrow.

Our priority now is getting our capital Brexit-ready by 2019, for the benefit of the whole country. Continued access to talent, and more investment in housing and infrastructure, are key to keeping our capital world-leading.

We galvanise London’s business community to make positive change.


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Emma Hutchinson, head of media relations
020 7665 1422 / 07852 030 305

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