The City needs workers from outside the EU

Stuart Fraser
AS THE days count down until the immigration cap consultation on non-EU workers closes a week on Friday, it is more important than ever that we engage with policymakers to voice concerns across the City.

Of course, we recognise the wider national concerns about immigration levels. With the latest figures from 2009 showing a 20 per cent rise in net entrants there is undeniably a political imperative to tighten the system and ensure it is not abused.

But any changes to how work permits are controlled need to be focused. Therefore it is important to note that last year’s increase stemmed not from an increase in permits issued to non-European Union citizens – which actually fell by 14 per cent – but by a fall in the number of people leaving Britain.

If the principle of a “cap” is accepted and that there will be limits on net immigration in the various categories then the government must ensure that any “abuse” of the system is eradicated, particularly in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 categories which are of prime importance to the City.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in the past, people have entered the country on the basis of qualification rather than economic value to the UK. If that persists then people we really need who do bring value in terms of enhancing a firm’s profitability – and both income and corporation tax – may be excluded in favour of a first-come, first-served entrant with little economic value.

Most of the firms in the City are global employers. If they need a skill set in, say, Middle East finance or emerging markets then they source from those areas. Equally if opportunities arise to acquire financial teams from outside of Europe they need to be able to act quickly. Are firms expected to sacrifice these opportunities because they cannot employ any non-European talent?

In the past couple of years the City has experienced huge swings in the business environment.

Financial businesses and indeed many others have to respond to these changes rapidly. We have in these two short years experienced a swathe of redundancies followed by a desperate scramble to rebuild numbers. Many of those redundancies will be of people who are not domiciled in the UK and many will have returned to their homes in the USA and Asia.

The effects of this are twofold. Firstly basing permit allocation on the recent past gives absolutely no guide to the needs of any business. Secondly it prevents firms from re-employing people from those countries. If we cannot do that then those talented people and firms will simply move elsewhere where there is similar demand and who show a welcoming environment.

Therefore it is in all our interests that the City works with the government to help design a fair, transparent and rational system that maintains the UKs openness to skilled citizens – regardless of their background.

Stuart Fraser is Policy Chairman at the City of London Corporation.