Businesses want their voices heard over immigration

The UK's largest business groups, trade associations and educational organisations have written to the government demanding a say in helping formulate the post-Brexit immigration system.

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In an open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the organisations – which represent hundreds of thousands of firms across the country and millions of employees and students – say they have been encouraged by reports this week that the government is considering abandoning the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for skilled workers from abroad.

Businesses urge government to form a "simple, streamlined and affordable" immigration system

The letter says that scrapping the salary test, along with previous indications from ministers that the decade-old target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 would be dropped and that a new, two-year post-study work visa for international students would be introduced, had "sent positive and important signals around the world that the UK is open for business".

Publication of the letter comes just days before the government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is due to publish its recommendations for a new, points-based immigration system. A government white paper on such a system is expected in March.

“Business understands that the immigration system must change in order to re-build public confidence," says the letter.

"Insight from enterprise can help build a points-based model that provides greater control, whilst providing access to the labour and skills needed to support the economy. And this can go hand in hand with a continued determination to invest in training home-grown talent.  

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“The economy needs a simple, streamlined and affordable system that meets business’ needs of all sizes, sectors and across all UK regions and nations.“We look forward to working with the new government to inform the detailed design of a new immigration system in a way that commands public confidence and supports the UK’s global ambitions.”

Four priorities to ensure the system works

The letter sets out four priorities, which the organisations say will help ensure the new system works from day one:
  • A minimum salary threshold set at a level that supports the economy and protects wages. The right threshold "can provide confidence that migrants are not accepting wages lower than those of UK workers".
  • Flexibility for skilled workers to enter the UK through a points-based system that enables companies to hire people with lower salaries based on their qualifications, work experience and other attributes.
  • A temporary visa route extended from one to two years to encourage migrant workers to integrate into local communities whilst also ensuring they are more productive, rather than businesses having to constantly start over by hiring new people. "Making this route available to all sectors, with a cooling-off period reduced to six months, will help companies plug vital skills and labour gaps." In-country switching to the skilled worker visa, if the eligibility criteria is subsequently met, should also be allowed.
  • A radically reformed sponsorship process, which would reduce cost and complexity for firms hiring from overseas. Completing and testing these reforms before switching to the new system will help smaller companies avoid expensive legal advice.

Fair and sustainable immigration is critical for UK growth

The signatories to the letter say, "Fair and sustainable immigration is critical for growth across the UK. It is a top priority for businesses and the signatories of this letter. We are writing to offer our help to make the new immigration system a success."

A Home Office spokesman said, "We will deliver on the people's priorities by introducing a points-based immigration system, attracting the brightest and best talent from around the world while cutting low-skilled immigration and bringing overall numbers down.

"This firmer and fairer system will let us decide who comes to this country based on their skills and the contribution they can make – not where they come from.

"We will continue to speak with businesses of all sizes as the system is designed and rolled out."

The business groups signing the letter were the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, Make UK, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses.

Among 36 signatories from trade, professional and educational bodies were the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, techUK, Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, British Insurance Brokers' Association, Recruitment and Employment Confederation and the UK Council for International Student Affairs.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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