Businesses unhappy about leak showing UK immigration clampdown

By BLOOMBERG

LONDONA leaked UK government document suggested ministers are considering a series of measures to limit and discourage immigration from the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Businesses are most displeased.

The 82-page draft proposal, which was published in the Guardian newspaper, isn’t a final plan but does show one strand of thinking about how British borders should be controlled. When Theresa May was home secretary, the department pushed hard to get the numbers of people coming down to a Conservative target of net immigration of 100,000 people a year.

The document proposed that low-skilled migrants from the EU should be able to come to the UK for at most two years, with a limit of three to five years for those with more skills. Employers would be required to do more to recruit British workers. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter that the document was “a blueprint on how to strangle our economy”.

The Confederation of British Industry said an open approach to the UK’s closest trading partners was “vital for business” as it helped address key skill and labour shortages at a time when unemployment is at a 40-year low. Businesses would look for an “open but managed” approach to immigration, said Neil Carberry, CBI MD for people and infrastructure.

The Food and Drink Federation, whose members often use cheap migrant labour, was also hostile. “Food and drink manufacturing, Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, will be alarmed,” Ian Wright, its DG, said in a statement. “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.” “It is clear 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,” Simon Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said in an email.

He objected to further burdens on employers: “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.”

“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-European Economic Area countries,” he said in a statement.

The proposals are unlikely to be well-received by the EU, which could further add to uncertainty for businesses and individuals, according to Caron Pope, a partner at law firm Fragomen. That’s frustrating companies, as they can’t make recruitment and staffing plans for UK businesses beyond March 2019, she said in an emailed statement.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC that the government position hadn’t been agreed yet. “There is obviously a balance to be struck, we don’t want to shut the door, of course not,” he 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,” Fallon said. — Bloomberg