Boris Johnson and businesses across London are on a collision course with the government over European immigration, as a new report warns that turning away talented workers will hurt Britain.
Increasingly harsh anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric is putting talented European and global workers and entrepreneurs off coming to the UK, according to the report from London First and the London Enterprise Panel (LEP), which also said that unaffordable housing is taking its toll on the city’s growth.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson commissioned the report to help plan for London’s future economic needs. Johnson also chairs the LEP, which welcomed the conclusions.
By contrast, home secretary Theresa May plans to crack down on foreign students staying in the UK after graduating, and the Tories and Labour have made cutting immigration a key part of their election campaigns.
“London has already established a unique position as the global hub for talent, business, finance and global visitors, however this could be put at risk by national policy on both immigration and Europe,” the report said.
“London has an opportunity to establish itself as a global capital for technology, creativity and entrepreneurship, but to gain maximum economic benefit it needs to address the gaps in skills and funding that make it challenging for businesses to grow.”
The report called for easier access to post-study visas for potential entrepreneurs; a fast-tracked system for high-growth firms to hire foreign workers with the skills they need; more co-ordination with the Schengen zone to make it easier for Chinese workers to come to the UK; and a more welcoming outlook and easier system for student visas.
Instead of fearing migrants and blocking their routes into the UK, London First’s John Dickie said the rise of migration reflects the UK’s strengths. “If we are to remain Europe’s business capital, we need to be open to the people of Europe to come to the capital,” he said.
“It is a consequence of the success of London that the people of Europe want to come here.”
He called for the number of homes built in London each year to double from below 30,000 to more than 50,000. Without action to boost the supply of housing, UK and foreign workers alike risk being priced out of the capital, holding back economic growth even further, he added.
Other business groups backed the report.
“London needs access to the most highly skilled individuals from across the world to maintain its position as one of the leading global centres for business and finance,” said Edwin Morgan from the Institute of Directors.
“The development of new industries will be held back, or simply happen elsewhere, if we don’t have a sensible visa system for internationally-mobile talent.”
And the London Chambers of Commerce and Industry backed the call for easier visa rules.
“Although only a small proportion of businesses employ non-UK staff, those that do are seeking skills and experience that are in short supply in the domestic labour market,” said the LCCI’s chief Colin Stanbridge.
“We must up-skill our workforce to ensure that firms have access to the skills they need to compete. It is also imperative that visa restrictions are relaxed to make it easier, and cheaper, for firms to recruit staff from overseas to fill the skills gap that exists.”