Yesterday, this column predicted that the government's immigration white paper would be a pretty rum Christmas present for business.
Today, we have to acknowledge that while the proposals don't satisfy everyone (or more accurately, every sector) there are elements to cheer.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is known for a more liberal approach to immigration than the Prime Minister, and it was telling that he refused time and again to say whether the policies outlined yesterday were part of a commitment to the Tory party's notorious target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. This arbitrary and harmful figure, a hangover from the David Cameron era but still backed by Theresa May, should now be formally jettisoned.
Javid appears much more interested in the type of immigrant rather than the numbers of them, though he did talk about achieving “sustainable levels.” As Oxford University's Migration Observatory put it, the government's strategy “creates both significant restrictions to some types of immigration to the UK while significantly liberalising others.”
Top of the pile of presents to business yesterday was a plan to scrap the cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into the country. The Coalition for a Digital Economy, a tech lobby group, called the idea “excellent news” – and they were not alone. Employer groups including the Institute of Directors and TheCityUK both welcomed the idea. Presently the cap is just under 21,000 and the route is routinely oversubscribed by employers.
Free movement of EU citizens will, technically, come to an end – but the government proposes measures to ensure that sectors such as agriculture can continue to draw on seasonal workers.
The sting in the tail for employers is that ministers appear wedded to a £30,000 salary threshold to define the highly skilled. But salary is not always a proxy for skill level, and huge concerns exist in the public and private sectors that skilled roles in nursing and IT for example will be off-limits to non-UK citizens. A public consultation on the proposal will see a deluge of calls to lower the salary level.
These issues aside, the Migration Observatory concludes that “this is the first time since 2010 that the government has proposed significantly liberalising, rather than just restricting, some migration flows.” For this, they should be commended.