Businesses express fears over Tories' new immigration clampdown

The Confederation of British Industry, EEF and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, have expressed concerns that the Tories' election manifesto will damage British business and the NHS.

A photo of Prime Minister Theresa May illustrates an article about the Tory manifesto which promises punitive cuts

Source: Jim Mattis

Plans by Prime Minister Theresa May's ruling Conservative Party to tighten immigration controls and costs after the 8 June general election have been condemned by business and civic leaders.

Cutting immigration to below 100,000

The Tory manifesto, published on 18 May, retained the pledge to reduce net migration – currently running at 273,000 a year – to below 100,000, and announced a doubling of employers' costs and increased health payments for skilled recruits from non-EU countries brought to the UK under the Tier 2 visa system. Non-EU students would also have to pay extra health charges.At the launch of the manifesto, Mrs May reiterated that freedom of movement for workers from European Union countries would end when the UK left the bloc. “When immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society,” said the manifesto.Mrs May told ITV that she would not set a date for meeting her target to bring immigration below 100,000 but added, “What we will be able to do when we leave the EU is, of course, bring in rules and controls for people coming from those remaining countries in the European Union into the UK, which we haven't been able to do as a member of the EU.“I also want to ensure that people here in this country are able to get on regardless of where they come from, or which school they went to, that what we see here in the UK is that how far you go depends on your talents and your willingness to work hard.”Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that ministers were “completely united” behind the plan to cut immigration. “The reason we are making this promise again is because we are listening to the message that people gave the political establishment (in the EU referendum) on June 23 last year, which said that they wanted control of our borders, and they wanted immigration reduced,” he said.

Tier 2 employers' costs set to double

Mr Hunt defended the plan to double the cost for businesses of the skills charge for Tier 2 visas from £1,000 to £2,000. “Everyone recognises the incredibly important role that immigration has in our society. Of course I recognise it, particularly in the NHS, where we have brilliant work done by workers from the EU and other overseas countries.“But what is not fair is if you bring in these workers from overseas, but then you don't train up your own people and give them the skills such that they can do some of these higher-paid jobs.“What we're saying to businesses is that we all have a social responsibility and if you are benefiting by bringing in workers from overseas, then you need to help pay to train people in this country so that they can access those higher-paid jobs.”
Immigration: the great debateSkillClear: Navigating UK immigration to secure the best overseas talentThe migration advisory committee (MAC) publishes ‘Review of Tier 2’

CBI warns against 'blunt approach' to immigration

But Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said, “With the world watching, now is the time to send a clear signal that the UK is open for business. Firms will therefore be heartened by (the manifesto) proposals to increase R&D spending, planned corporation tax reductions and a commitment to act on business rates.“But the Conservative manifesto has an Achilles heel – in a global race for talent and innovation, UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration.“The next government can both control migration and support prosperity; it does not need to be an either/or choice.“Decisions made in the next parliament will determine the UK’s economic destiny for a generation. And Brexit is the biggest and most complex task facing the next government. Getting it right is vital for our country’s future prosperity.“To make a success of Brexit, the next government must commit to working alongside business more closely than ever before. We need a team of all the talents to get the best outcome for Britain – and UK firms are up for the challenge.”

EEF praises 'comprehensive' industrial strategy

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the Conservatives' manifesto "gives business a clear commitment to a comprehensive industrial strategy, which we applaud”.But he added, “There appears to be no rationale to justify doubling the immigration skills charge, other than the need to send some kind of signal to a section of the electorate.  If the aim is to make it more difficult for companies, especially SMEs, to access the skills they and the economy urgently need, then this will do the trick.“It not only impacts on the cost of doing business, but goes against the grain of a de-regulation agenda which appears to have slipped off the radar. Any future government must remember the wealth, jobs and growth that the private sector generates and not take business for granted.”

Sadiq Khan predicts 'huge damage' to public services

Sadiq Khan, Labour's mayor of London, added, “These Tory immigration policies are totally unworkable and will cause huge damage to London's economy. This is yet another anti-London policy from the most anti-London government since Margaret Thatcher.“Reducing net migration to the tens of thousands would make all Londoners poorer, cause huge damage to our public services like the NHS and schools, and make it impossible for us to build the affordable homes we need.”

Also in the manifesto

Other Conservative manifesto measures included:
  • Balancing the budget by 2025
  • No increase in VAT, but no pledge not to raise income tax or National Insurance
  • Increasing NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion over the next five years
  • Scrapping winter fuel payments to better-off pensioners
  • An extra £4 billion for schools in England by 2022

For related news and features, visit our Immigration section.

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