From education to employment

Open and controlled – Closing the skills gap with a new approach to immigration

Putting migration on the table in future trade talks and ensuring EU workers are not subject to burdensome non-EU visa rules are two key recommendations in a new CBI report on how migration can work UK post-Brexit.

The report, Open and controlled – A New Approach to Migration, provides evidence from 129,000 firms across 18 industry sectors. Companies want to see a new approach that remains open enough to grow the UK economy, with the right controls to build public trust and confidence.

This significant consultation with businesses of all sizes shows the inter-connectedness of different sectors, highlighting just how important migration is to all parts of the UK economy, at all skills levels.

Most credible economic studies show that immigration delivers net economic benefits for the UK. Foreign workers put in more than they take out. Their taxes – which pay for schools, hospitals and roads – outweigh the benefits they receive. And, as the Office for Budget Responsibility notes, higher net migration reduces pressure on government debt.

Introducing the report, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:

“Freedom of movement will be ending. The building blocks of a successful new migration system for the UK begin with an honest and open debate that has been absent from politics. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country. This would hurt us all – from the money in our pockets to our access to public services.

“The needs are more complex than only ensuring that the UK can attract the ‘brightest and best’. Housebuilding needs architects for design, labourers to dig foundations and electricians to help finish the job. In the food and drink sector, the supply chain starts with agriculture, then logistics and ends with retail.

“This is no longer a theoretical debate – it’s about the future of our nation. False choices and sloganeering must be avoided at all costs. Openness and control must not be presented as opposites. Public attitudes towards migration and the impacts it has on communities are far more nuanced. Scrapping blunt targets, ensuring all who come to the UK contribute and using the immigration dividend to support public services will add to public confidence.

“For Global Britain to succeed, the UK must send the right signals that show it remains open and welcoming to the world. That means putting migration on the table in trade talks to get us a better deal, first with the EU and then other countries where it is clear existing visa restrictions inhibit trade and foreign direct investment.

“We hope this report is received as a serious contribution to the debate. In these febrile times, it’s vital that a policy of such importance for the UK’s future living standards can be discussed without ideology or an oversimplification of public attitudes. Many sectors are already facing shortages, from nurses to software engineers – so fast, sustainable, evidence-based action is needed.”

The CBI’s recommendations for a new immigration system can be grouped into five themes (full list of recommendations in Notes to Editors):

  • Build public trust in the UK’s migration system by shifting away from controlling numbers to assessing contribution and by investing in local public services where demand has been increased by migration.
  • Reform the UK’s non-EU immigration system so that firms can better access people and skills from around the world, not just the EU.
  • Recognise the strong links between people and trade as the UK forges new economic relationships on the world stage.
  • Replace free movement with an open and controlled immigration system for EU workers
  • Ensure that the transition to any new migration system is done with respect for people and in an orderly manner

Responding to the report, Suzannah Nichol MBE, Chief Executive of Build UK, said:

“UK construction must have access to skilled people to create the infrastructure and homes that build communities. The industry has committed to recruit, train and retain home-grown talent but a clear and sustainable migration approach that focuses on key occupations is urgently needed so we can bridge the gap.”

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive at UK Hospitality, said:

“This report highlights the pressing need for a future immigration policy that exists to support the UK economy, rather than one which is determined by inflexible ideology or meaningless targets. The CBI’s report also underlines the importance of engaging in an open and honest debate about the realities and practicalities of migration to the UK and its effect on business. The hospitality sector is particularly in need of a future policy that provides employers with access to talent to support continued investment and growth. This means acknowledging the need for a variety of workers across the sector at many levels, not just those who are deemed highly-skilled. We particularly welcome the recommendation to secure the rights of current EU citizens in the UK, regardless of an exit deal.”

Angela Coleshill, Competitiveness Director, Food and Drink Federation said:

“This report provides a much needed deep-dive study into the significant contribution EU nationals make to the UK economy and we hope it will be used to shape future immigration policy once we have left the EU.

“There is arguably no industry more reliant on EU workers than UK food and drink manufacturing, with a third of the industry’s 400,000 strong workforce coming from the EU. These workers play a vital role in guaranteeing the success of our £28.2bn industry and are employed across the full range of skill levels, in every region of the UK. It is therefore vital that any new migration system not only recognises the important role EU workers play in feeding the country, but also their contribution to wider society, in towns and cities across the country.”

Vinous Ali, Head of Policy at TechUK, said:

“The UK tech sector is thriving – growing at more than double the rate of the wider economy, at the heart of this success story is people. Post-Brexit the UK must retain its position as a talent magnet – drawing in the talent and skills we need to continue to grow and innovate. This means recognising and responding to the positive impact of immigration – to our economy as well as our communities.

“This report provides some tangible policy recommendations that can help restore trust in our immigration system. We hope that the Government will reflect on these proposals and ensure that we continue to attract the talent we need to deliver its vision of Global Britain.”

Sophie Wingfield, Head of Policy at Recruitment & Employment Confederation says:

“The CBI is presenting a clear, evidence-based message from business about the need to protect the UK labour market to ensure continued growth post-Brexit.

“We agree with the CBI that as well as permanent staff, it’s vital that business can maintain access to migrant temporary and seasonal workers in post-Brexit Britain to plug candidate shortages and keep UK business growing. Otherwise sectors including hospitality, warehousing, and food and drink will be hit hard.

“Recruiters are clear that we need a comprehensive mobility and migration deal in the EU exit agreement. Any new system should be based on the contribution people come to make, and not an immovable numerical target.

“The rights of EU citizens should be guaranteed in the event of a no-deal scenario. The government should also ensure businesses have sufficient time to adapt and transition to any new immigration system.

“EU nationals play a key role in our labour market. If employers & recruiters aren’t able to access the people they need we risk damaging our national prosperity in a way that will affect all our daily lives.”


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