Immigration cap will prevent the City flourishing

GROUP CEO, NORTON ROSE GROUP

LIKE many other international businesses in the City, Norton Rose Group is managing the impact of the new immigration caps, which were introduced this summer by the UK government. A new temporary cap was announced on 29 June and interim limits came into force on 19 July, lasting through to the end of March 2011. In particular, there was a limit imposed on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that sponsors can assign to non-EU migrant workers.

Given the current economic environment and the challenges that the City faces to its status as an international business hub, the City’s response to the proposed immigration policy changes should be carefully considered. Continued support to maintain and strengthen London as an ideal venue for global commerce is critical.

A key factor which enables that international potential is the City’s ability to hire and retain talent from beyond the EU. The business being driven out of London does not limit itself to within EU borders. The City’s global business community benefit from being able to tap the expertise of a London-based US or Russian lawyer, equally as much as a German or French lawyer.

As an international legal practice we see many benefits, to our clients as well as our practice, in employing legal staff in our London office from a diverse range of both EU and non-EU nationalities. This helps our London office offer our clients strong cross-border expertise and capabilities in line with the current importance of cross-border transactions that are driven out of London. And our approach to nurturing non-EU talent means that we can at a later stage move legal staff, with London experience and training, into other non-EU jurisdictions to strengthen our service offering to clients in those markets.

It is not just the limit which causes us concern, but also the fact that we will likely have to work with a limited ability to know future annual visa limits that go beyond the current visa year.

Norton Rose Group needs to use these limited Tier 2 (General) visas to employ non-EU migrants who we wish to bring on as part of our two year trainee programme and we are not alone. Legal practices offer their two-year training contracts two years before graduates join their practices, because trainees must, after university and before starting work, complete their Legal Practice Course.

It will be extremely challenging and impractical to be limited in knowing how many Tier 2 visas we can offer in the future. Tier 2 visa limits could also impact legal practices when they look to retain non-EU trainees as qualified solicitors following the completion of their two year training contract.

Being able to see approved quota numbers for more than a one-year period will allow businesses such as ours to plan and manage our staffing requirements more effectively. During this current uncertain time, we must juggle our new interim Tier 2 visa allowance and the time constraints and duration of the visa application process with the much longer industry-wide time cycles for hiring trainees and retaining them on qualification

The change of policy and its timing has already had a minor impact on Norton Rose Group. One of our new trainees will start their training contract as planned in September but in one of our international offices and now we have confirmation of our interim limit, the trainee will move in January to London with a Tier 2 visa. We have been able to honour our commitment to this trainee as well as other non-EU trainees joining in the interim period but we believe it is important for us to be allowed to employ the best workforce that will help the UK economy.