Sadiq Khan and one of the capital’s leading business organisations have reacted strongly against new government measures to reduce legal migration to the UK, saying it will damage the capital’s and the country’s economies at a time of serious shortages of labour and skills.
BusinessLDN, whose membership includes major employers such as Arup, Landsec and Heathrow along with leading universities, criticised the decision to sharply increase the minimum salary workers from overseas must earn from £26,200 to £38,700, with policy delivery director Mark Hilton saying it will “make it much harder for firms to access the talent they need to drive growth”.
The Mayor, too, highlighted “acute staff shortages” in “many vital sectors in the capital” including construction, hospitality and social care, describing the government’s move as its “latest wrong-headed attack on migration” in the wake of the UK’s departure from the European Union an in the context of what he called a “lack of investment in skills training in the UK”.
The changes to visa eligibility, announced by new Home Secretary James Cleverly, a former member of the London Assembly and of Boris Johnson’s mayoral team, followed the release of figures showing that 745,000 more people came to live in the country in 2022 than moved elsewhere.
This was the highest “net migration” figure ever, despite repeated Conservative promises to bring the figure down since they came to power in 2010. Cleverly claimed that 300,000 who were eligible to come to the UK in 2022 would not have been under the new rules.
But Hilton said the government should instead “put the economics before the politics by working with businesses on building an immigration system which is flexible, fair and responsive, while also implementing long-term measures that help to boost the domestic pipeline of talent like reforming the apprenticeship levy”.
Khan said the changes have created a risk of “real and substantial damage to London’s economy as it continues to recover from the pandemic” and also praised “the contribution of successive generations of immigrants” to London, describing them as “integral to growing our economy and enriching our cultural and social life”.
The increase in migration to the UK since Brexit has come primarily from workers and students outside the European Union under the government’s new “points-based system” which started in 2021 and made it easier for employers to recruit from other countries.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said last week on BBC Radio 4’s The Briefing Room, before Cleverly’s announcement, that were immigration policy to stay broadly the same it would be “reasonable to assume” that net migration would “start to come down” because, typically, a rise in immigration is followed by one in emigration as some of the new arrivals, often students, leave again.
Sumption added that the net migration figure could “fall to somewhere in the 300,000 range” in the coming years, though she stressed that there were many uncertainties.
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