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UK industry group asks Tory govt to reconsider its visa policy

Vidya Ram London | Updated on August 10, 2018

This file photo shows Indian professionals protesting against the unfair Visa rules, outside the British Parliament   -  PTI

Calls for ‘new approach’ to access talent at all skill levels

Pressure on the UK to further shake up its immigration policies, viewed as increasingly restrictive by the business sector, is growing. The Confederation of British Industry has published a report calling for a “new approach” that scrapped immigration targets, and left Britain “open enough” to grow the economy, and enable businesses to access talent at all skills levels.

It also suggested that trade deals with countries such as India and Australia would be easier to forge if Britain reviewed its approach to visas, and brought a migration policy to the discussion table in trade negotiations.

Britain’s needs were “more complex” than only ensuring that the UK can attract the “brightest and the best,” said Josh Hardie, the Confederation’s Deputy Director, referring to a phrase repeatedly used by the government in defence of the existing system. “Housebuilding needs architects for design, labourers to dig foundations and electricians to finish the job...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.”

Right signals

He called on the government to send the right signals and put “migration on the table” in trade talks both with the EU and other nations where “it is clear existing visa restrictions inhibit trade and foreign direct investment”.

India has repeatedly raised concerns about Britain’s unwillingness to ease visa restrictions for professionals, students and others. In particular Britain’s decision to exclude India from a relaxation of visa norms for students provoked criticism from India, raising tensions between the two nations.

The report was also supported by industry-specific groups, including UK Hospitality, the Food and Drink Federation and TechUK. Staying at the forefront of developments in the fast evolving global tech sector required access to “niche digital skill sets from a global pool of talent,” the report said. “A centralised shortage list will never be enough to meet the needs of the technology sector.” Among its specific recommendations are reforming the tier-II visa route — the main work route for those coming to the UK, including from India — to ensure that employers could “access the range of skills that they need” and scrapping the annual number of tier-II visas issued. The government recently took doctors and nurses out of the annual limit, but with EU workers leaving the UK in larger numbers, the demand for tier-II visas has risen, resulting in the monthly cap being hit, leaving businesses unable to hire the talent they needed.

‘Hostile’ approach

Following a scandal over the wrongful treatment of Commonwealth migrants in the UK lawfully, attention has turned to the UK government’s “hostile” approach to immigration, with the suggestion that its approach risked harming those legally in Britain, and the needs of the business community.

A number of changes were brought in by new Home Secretary Sajid Javid, but businesses and others believe far more change is needed to truly tackle the problem. “The stakes are high,” warned the Confederation. “Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the health service, pick food crops or deliver products to stores around the country.”

Published on August 10, 2018

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