Businesses unhappy over draft plan to curb EU migration

Migration proposals from the government, including a maximum two-year residency for low-skilled EU migrants and up to five years for high-skilled professionals have been criticised by business leaders.

Businesses unhappy over draft plan to curb EU migration
Business leaders have expressed unease over draft government proposals to reduce the level of migration from the European Union after the Brexit process is complete.The proposals, published in the Guardian, include a maximum two-year residency for lower-skilled EU migrants who come to Britain with a job offer, and work permits with limits between three and five years for high-skilled professionals.

Company recruitment should focus on 'resident labour'

“It is now more important than ever that we have the right skills domestically to build a strong and competitive economy,” says the paper, which argues companies should focus recruitment strategies on “resident labour”.Ministers have not signed off on the proposals but business leaders fear the draft indicates the likely direction of government policy, which will be published in a position paper later this year.In a BBC interview, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon insisted the government would not shut the door on EU migrants “with high skills” but wanted more job opportunities for indigenous workers, even though the employment rate is at an all-time high with official figures indicating the existence of more than 700,000 job vacancies.“I can't set out the proposals yet, they have not yet been finalised. They are being worked on at the moment. There is obviously a balance to be struck: we don't want to shut the door, of course not,” Sir Michael said.“We have always welcomed to this country those who can make a contribution to our economy, to our society, people with high skills. On the other hand we want British companies to do more to train up British workers, to do more to improve skills of those who leave our colleges.“So there's always a balance to be struck. We're not closing the door on all future immigration but it has to be managed properly and people do expect to see the numbers coming down.”

A controlled immigration system which allows access to foreign workers

But Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills at the Institute of Directors, commented, “This is obviously not an approach that business leaders, especially of small- and medium-sized firms, will want to see. Businesses are not the border agency. The Home Office is not 'taking back control' if it expects employers to do the immigration checks for them.“The UK needs an immigration system which provides control while also enabling employers to access the foreign workers they need at all levels – whether it be short-term seasonal workers, intra-company transfers or permanent positions.”Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, described the proposals as potentially “catastrophic” for the hospitality industry. “The idea that so-called 'unskilled workers' would be able to stay for up to two years, whereas others can stay longer, is deliberately discriminatory and with other restrictions will add unnecessary red tape,” she said.“We understand the need and the wish to reduce immigration but we need to tread carefully and be aware of the unintended consequences – some businesses will fail, taking UK jobs with them.”

Food and drink manufacturers concerned over migrant worker shortage

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, added, “Food and drink manufacturing, Britain's largest manufacturing sector, will be alarmed by the proposals contained in the document published by the Guardian.“If this does represent the government's thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make – at all skill levels – across the food chain.”Mr Wright also questioned why the proposals had been drawn up little more than a month after Prime Minister Theresa May had charged the Migration Advisory Committee – the independent body that advises the government – to investigate the implications of curbs on EU migration on the UK economy.
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Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, said access to both seasonal and permanent workers as “absolutely critical” for the agricultural industry.“A competent and reliable workforce is vital for British farms to be a dependable source of raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, worth £108 billion,” she said.“Statistics show that horticulture alone requires 80,000 seasonal workers a year to plant, pick, grade and pack over nine million tonnes and 300 types of fruit, vegetable and flower crops in Britain every year.“But across the sectors, particularly in poultry, pig and dairy, access to both seasonal and permanent workers is absolutely critical.“An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers able to work in the UK after we leave the EU would cause massive disruption to the entire food supply chain – a solution for the whole industry is needed to ensure the sector has access to the skills and labour it needs.“We are calling for an urgent and clear commitment from government to ensure that farmers and growers have access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers post-Brexit. And we need clarity on the new rules for EU nationals living and working in the UK well before free movement ends in March 2019.”

An open approach to closest trading partners is vital

Neil Carberry, managing director for people and infrastructure at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said, “An open approach to our closest trading partners is vital for business, as it attracts investment to the UK. And, with employment high, it also helps keep our economy moving by addressing key skill and labour shortages.“Businesses will look for the government's final position paper to support an open but managed approach to immigration. That means taking the initiative to guarantee those already here that they can stay, a transition period with limited changes so firms can plan ahead, and a final system for the EU that is simpler and more open than the complex work permit system run for non-EEA countries.”For related news and features, visit our Enterprise section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit

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