The UK should drop its net migration target after Brexit and introduce a system for arrivals from the European Union that better meets employers’ needs, Britain’s biggest business lobby group said.
The recommendations published Friday by the Confederation of British Industry come as the UK prepares to end freedom of movement from the EU after it leaves the bloc. EU workers account for between 4 and 30 percent of the workforce in every UK sector, according to the CBI.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country,” said Josh Hardie, deputy director-general at the CBI. “The needs are more complex than only ensuring that the UK can attract the ‘brightest and best.”‘
Other CBI recommendations include: guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to remain even in a ‘no deal’ scenario, making sure businesses have at least two years to adapt to any new immigration rules, and introducing compulsory registration for EU citizens when they arrive in the UK.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has a longstanding target to reduce net migration to below 100,000 a year, and freedom of movement from the EU was also a rallying point for Leave voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The number of people moving to the UK from the EU fell to the lowest level in nearly four years in 2017, according to the Office of National Statistics, though overall net migration was well above the government’s target at 282,000.
The government said earlier this year that EU citizens living in the UK won’t see any change to their rights until January 2021. After that, individuals will only be granted ‘settled status’ if they arrived before the end of 2020 and once they’ve been living in the UK for five years. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a leading euroskeptic, said last month said that EU citizens should have no special access to the UK.
In a breakdown of 18 key sectors in the UK the CBI found EU nationals made up 17 percent of banking and finance employees, 10 percent of doctors, and as much as 20 percent of the railway industry’s workforce.
The CBI is also calling for the government to reform the visa system for foreign workers from outside the EU. There’s currently a cap of 20,700 visas a year for skilled non-EU workers, excluding those moving between countries within the same company and anyone earning 160,000 pounds ($206,000) or more. Employers can also only recruit non-EU workers if the role is degree level, has been advertised locally, and has a salary of at least 30,000 pounds.
The government’s net migration target is controversial even within May’s ruling Conservative Party, and Home Secretary Sajid Javid refused to commit to it during parliamentary testimony last month.
“You can’t have net migration at 100,000 and continue to have the economy that we enjoy,” said Ian Robinson, a London immigration lawyer at Fragomen LLP. “If the government makes a call that immigration is more important than the economy, then they at least need to be honest with the public that there’s a trade-off there.”
Bloomberg LP is a client of Fragomen.
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