#FullStrength: why the UK needs a fair and open immigration system
18 July 2019
At this time of great uncertainty for Britain, it is vital that the Government does all it can to keep the country at full strength. That’s why London First has joined with business and education bodies representing tens of thousands of employers and millions of workers to call on the next Prime Minister to commit to clear action on reforming the immigration system.
The #FullStrength coalition is concerned that unless positive action is taken now, the proposed future immigration system risks exacerbating the UK’s already chronic skills and labour shortages.
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 while ensuring the right controls are in place for managing immigration more effectively – clearly necessary for ensuring the public’s trust.
The latest immigration figures show that net long-term migration from the EU has continued to fall since 2016, and multiple surveys have shown that skills and labour shortages are making it harder than ever for employers in all corners of the UK to fill vacancies. While the Immigration White Paper in December 2018 made some business-friendly proposals, more needs to be done.
Together we are calling for four key actions from the next Prime Minister to keep the UK open to talent at all levels.
Firstly, the proposed £30,000 salary threshold should be reduced to £20,000. More than 60% of all jobs in the UK currently fall under £30,000, highlighting 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. Reducing 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.
Next, the temporary work route should be reformed, allowing companies to bring in overseas workers for a temporary period of up to two years, with a reciprocal cooling-off period. Workers should be allowed to switch from the route to other routes, such as a skilled visa, while in the UK.
Thirdly, we need a reformed sponsorship model which reduces 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.
Finally, mobility of talent should be boosted by reinstating the two-year post-study work visa for international students, which currently lasts just six months. The Government should also expend the current youth mobility scheme to include EU citizens and create an improved 90-day business visa so that companies can move staff across offices to work on projects.
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.
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