Post-Brexit migration uncertainty ‘set to hit investment’

The director-general of the CBI has called for a controlled yet open migration arrangement between the EU and the UK to prevent further damage to investment in the UK, as a result of Brexit uncertainty.

Carolyn Fairbairn making a speech


A call for the government to provide “clarity and certainty over migration policy, now and in the future” has been issued by the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Future of EU migration and UK investment

Carolyn Fairbairn said in a speech in Cambridge that unless ministers provided this clarity, investment in the UK would be badly affected. She also said the existing Tier 2 visa system, which controls the migration of skilled workers to the UK from outside the European Economic Area, would not be appropriate to apply to European migrants after Brexit.Additionally, Ms Fairbairn said the government should guarantee EU citizens’ rights in the UK even if no exit deal was reached with Brussels, and said businesses would need time to adjust to a new immigration system after Brexit.

Controlled yet open migration system

She said she wanted to see a more controlled yet open migration arrangement with the EU, as limiting access to EU workers would leave companies unable to get the staff they needed to grow, particularly at a time of record employment rates in the UK.“One issue absolutely vital to productivity is business’ access to people and skills,” Ms Fairbairn said. “With record employment rates - and without access to EU workers – firms are unable to get the staff they need to grow.“For business, this issue is as important as our future trade deal with the EU. Put simply, skills shortages threaten to slow down growth. Training British workers isn’t enough on its own, nor is just hiring from overseas - business needs both.”
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Ms Fairbairn said a shortage of indigenous recruits was hampering admirable education, apprenticeships and skills courses introduced by the government. As a result, a lack of access to skills and labour was already affecting firms.“Problems finding the right people don’t just affect the company looking for workers, they have a knock-on effect on the whole supply chain, creating a vicious cycle. Uncertainty deters workers and halts investment,” she said.“This hits a firm’s bottom line, so businesses scale back their investment. The economy and public services suffers, which means less money for schools, roads and for our NHS.“We’ve spoken to businesses in the Cambridge tech hub. They’re worried that Brexit will put off overseas workers who don’t know if they’ll be welcome, or even allowed to stay.“One business, Cambridge Medical Robotics, rightly asked: ‘If our competitors in Silicon Valley can have their pick of people from around the world, why do we think it’s a good thing to deny ourselves the same ability?’.
“And we know from the Federation of Small Business that one in five small businesses rely on skills and labour from the EU. Let’s remember, this isn’t just about the best and brightest – it’s about giving companies of all sizes access to the skills and labour they need to succeed.“This is urgent. Business is looking for answers – but is being met by silence. Uncertainty about access to European workers and delays to the immigration White Paper have left businesses frustrated.”

Tier 2 system and EU nationals

Ms Fairbairn said businesses were expressing firm opposition to extending the Tier 2 system to EU nationals after Brexit.“It is costly, complex and unaffordable for smaller businesses,” she said. “Copying and pasting the Tier 2 system would be a disaster for the UK, damaging competitiveness and stopping businesses getting the people and skills they need to compete globally.“Instead, we need a system which gives firms the confidence to keep investing in every part of the UK - one that ensures that firms of every size and sector get the talent they need for years to come. So now, let’s stop talking about it and, instead, get it sorted.” 
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