UK must get immigration policy right, warns CBI

The head of Britain's largest business group has said that the priority for a post-Brexit immigration system must be the contribution a migrant makes to the country, not what his or her salary might be.

The customs and immigration queues at Gatwick airport
The head of Britain's largest business group has said that the priority for a post-Brexit immigration system must be the contribution a migrant makes to the country, not what his or her salary might be.

CBI president John Allan speaks in at CBI annual dinner in Scotland

John Allan, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), also told the organisation's Scottish annual dinner in Glasgow that the current impasse in British politics over Brexit and that politicians of all sides needed to work towards an orderly exit from the EU.“Come together, compromise, get a deal. Your entrenchment is folly at the expense of people’s livelihoods,” he said.On a new immigration policy, Mr Allan said the country was facing its biggest shake-up for generations because "Brexit isn’t just about trade, or tariffs, or regulation - it’s about people".He added, "We know that here in Scotland, there’s a demographic challenge. A skills shortage before free movement has even ended. Meaning many companies simply can’t find the people they need. At all skill levels."As one housebuilder told us, the sector needs architects, for initial designs. Labourers, to dig the foundations of homes. And electricians to finish the job. We’ve been making the case to government for three years."

UK government: freedom of moment U-turns

Mr Allan said that the CBI and other business groups had been making progress but then, last month, the new government of Boris Johnson announced that freedom of movement would end immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit.That was "a worrying U-turn for business, after months of progress...but even more so for EU nationals – many whom have spent their lives living and working here". However, Mr Allan said that last week, "amidst the sound and fury of Westminster", there was "a big win" for business."An announcement that the government would revert to earlier no-deal proposals – EU nationals can continue to come here after a no deal, with a gradual transition to a new, points-based system," he said."It is hard won progress. After frank conversations with the new government. And will be reassuring for businesses – particularly here in Scotland – where overseas workers have contributed so much. But more importantly – it should be a sigh of relief for EU nationals, who have long needed this clarity."So what does business want next? First, we will be working with the government’s Migration Advisory Committee to look at other countries’ points-based systems. And, in the longer term, putting forward the evidence for a system that supports Scotland’s strong economy - a system that welcomes international students, allowing them time to find work after graduating."And above all – a system that is flexible, that builds public trust, and that values contribution over salary. We have an historic chance to get this right. Let’s not waste it."

For more news and views on the issues surrounding Brexit, visit our dedicated Brexit section. 

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