Business figures hit back yesterday after the government appeared to blame British employers for a jump in net migration to the UK.
The number of people coming to the UK, minus those leaving, rose to 330,000 in the year to March – an all-time record high. British growth gets a boost from higher migration, according to the government’s fiscal watchdog – but Tory immigration minister James Brokenshire described the figure as “deeply disappointing”.
Brokenshire said that the “reliance that business continues to place on migrant labour” was responsible for the increase, as well as blaming rules over foreign students and the EU’s principle of freedom of movement.
The Home Office’s response has prompted fears of a clampdown on foreign workers.
“The government mustn’t use this record figure as another excuse to limit the sort of positive immigration that grows our economy,” said Mark Hilton of London First, a business group based in the capital.
Katrina Cooper, counsel at law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, said: “We should be drawing positive inferences from these numbers and draw correlations with the recent data published by the OECD on Wednesday that showed the UK was the fastest growing advanced economy in the second quarter. We must not let the government use these figures as a further means to tighten the skilled migration routes.”
Stricter rules on non-EU workers would impose heavy costs on London’s booming technology sector, industry leaders warned.
“When you talk to start-up founders and ask what’s holding them back, hiring talent is usually the number one challenge,” Guy Levin, head of digital start-up campaign group Coadec, told City A.M.
A shortage of talent is already causing problems. Survey figures seen exclusively by City A.M. show that businesses’ expansion plans are set to be scuppered this year. Research by recruiter Robert Walters shows that 76 per cent of hiring managers were planning to take on new staff during the rest of this year, but that four in 10 expect to face skills shortages.
Russ Shaw, who founded Tech London Advocates, added : “We need that skilled migration, the tech sector relies on it, we depend on it... There’s not enough talent coming in from the EU.”
Recent research from the Centre for Entrepreneurs said that migrants were behind one in seven companies in the UK and employ 1.16m people.
The government has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the impact of strict non-EU worker controls. The committee has so far warned the government against making significant changes to salary thresholds while a full report is due in December.
Seamus Nevin, head of skills policy at the Institute of Directors, hit back at the government, blaming successive administrations for presiding over an education system that fails students and businesses.
“Other countries welcome top talent,” he said. “Britain makes it difficult and artificially expensive for students to enter and stay, and now the minister has called for them to be ejected.”