CBI launches plan for ‘sensible’ post-Brexit migration

The UK’s foremost business group has set out its priorities for achieving a “sensible” immigration programme that would enable companies to recruit and retain overseas talent in a post-Brexit Britain.

UK visa immigration
In a new paper entitled Business Priorities for a New Immigration System, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says that establishing a new, post-Brexit migration system responsive to economic needs is vital for business.Such a policy, says the paper, must recognise the public’s concern over the high level of immigration to the UK – a deciding factor in many people’s minds in June’s referendum on membership of the European Union.

The business case for immigration

“Although polling after the referendum showed that the public looks on unskilled migration unfavourably,” says the CBI, “when asked about care workers and construction workers, for example, 75 per cent and 60 per cent respectively said that the numbers of migrants should stay the same or be increased.“This suggests that a more nuanced approach is needed to measuring the costs and benefits of immigration.”While Prime Minister Theresa May stated in her speech on 17th January that freedom of movement would end with Brexit, the CBI argues that UK businesses must have access to foreign labour to fill skills gaps and labour shortages.“A system that is responsive to economic need and access to skilled workers top the list of businesses requirements for any future migration system. To provide reassurance, for both workers and their employers, an immediate priority should be securing a reciprocal agreement on the status of EU nationals already in the UK.”Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general for policy and campaigns, commented, “We will need an immigration system that recognises the economic benefit of immigration and lets companies respond where there’s a skills gap or a labour shortage. The system need to be adaptable, simple and practical, and address public concerns over control.”Mr Hardie said that, since June’s vote to leave the EU, CBI members had experienced difficulty persuading overseas recruits to take up positions in Britain. He added that a top priority for both London and Brussels should be to remove the uncertainty over whether EU nationals already in the UK would be allowed to remain.“We have been clear: the number-one priority of the government should be to provide as much assurance as possible for EU nationals working here,” Mr Hardie said. “We have urged the government and the EU to provide certainty. It should be top of the pile once Article 50 is triggered.” 

Delivering economic growth

The CBI has laid out four key priorities it wants a new migration system to meet in order to deliver economic growth and prosperity:
  1. Maintain ease of access to do business – A future system must maintain ease of movement for travel and trade with the EU, the biggest market for British businesses. This also means the border in Northern Ireland remaining open, with easy passage through ports and airports for UK citizens in the EU, and vice versa.
  2. Accept the need for non-graduate migration – With record employment levels, parts of the UK labour market are already facing labour shortages. Therefore, a certain level of non-graduate EU migration for work will be needed, and the future system should allow this.
  3. Make it easy for skilled people to come to the UK and contribute – In a globally connected economy, a competitive migration system is needed to attract the investment and jobs that create prosperity. Ensuring that Europe’s large pool of talent remains easily accessible to UK business is critical.
  4. Secure the UK’s global position as an attractive hub – While redefining the UK’s economic and trading links with Europe must be the first priority, remaining open to the rest of the world is also key. Supporting the UK’s world-leading universities in attracting international students, including from Europe, is vital.
In the Winter 2016/17 issue of Relocate magazine, David Sapsted looks at some of the key international locations bidding for a piece of the post-Brexit action, and canvasses the views of business leaders and politicians. For more news and features about the impact of Brexit in the UK and across the globe, visit our Brexit section.The following sections may also be of interest: Enterprise and International AssignmentsAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit