London’s Mayor Boris Johnson has attacked the British Government’s stance on immigration. He has pledged to gather “ammunition” during a forthcoming visit to India to make the case for changes to what he described as a “counterproductive” visa policy.

The Mayor, a member of the ruling coalition’s Conservative Party and increasingly seen as a potential prime ministerial candidate following his successful hosting of this summer’s Olympic Games, is due to visit New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad on a week-long trip later this month, accompanied by the Deputy Mayor, members of London & Partners (the city’s promotional organisation), and business leaders. It will be the first foreign visit as part of a new initiative to promote economic growth and jobs.

Johnson said that among the top issues he hoped to discuss during his trip was the clampdown on visas for foreign students entering the UK, introduced as part of a wider Central Government drive to cut net migration levels from outside the EU.

“We are losing a massive business opportunity here which is completely crazy for the UK market, which is brilliant at higher education, to be closing itself off from some of the best and brightest students from around the world,” he said. “That is definitely the case I want to make.”

Will hurt London

The current immigration policy was also damaging to the London economy more widely, he said.

“They are not in the interests of London and the UK economy. The area where London is going to continue to grow is the service industry…and when ICT companies and banks cannot get the professionals they need to come easily, whether its moving around the firms or joining firms, to London, then that stops the economic machine, and it starts being a block to growth.”

“A tough immigration policy would have said that you can’t come here unless you have a visible means of support and are not going to be a burden on the National Health Service or housing system…people understand that…what they don’t understand is excluding talented people.”

Aside from the issue of higher education and immigration, Johnson said he would be looking to build closer cooperation including on infrastructure projects in both countries and opportunities in the retail sector.

Financial services

“There are clearly sensitivities, but it’s an interesting conversation to have, and I think it is right that as mayor I should be doing what I can to help in that respect.”

He added that he saw a “massive two-way street” in financial services. “We…want to encourage Indian corporations to see London as the natural place to incorporate, to use London’s banking and financial services and to raise capital…and we are interested in seeing what we can do to promote the UK’s financial services in India.” There were also synergies in the software sector, he said. London has been trying to build its presence, capitalising on the Olympics to develop “Tech City,” a Silicon Valley-esque tech-and-start-up cluster in East London.

(This article was published on November 15, 2012)
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