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UK and EU negotiators haven’t yet reached a deal on how immigration will be handled post-Brexit, but British businesses are already calling for fewer visa restrictions on highly skilled workers. London First, a business group based in the capital were quick to acknowledge that UK businesses should do more to help train and recruit local workers, but they also called for special allowances to limit the impact on business.
Among their proposals is a “transition period” of up to six years to allow UK businesses the chance to adapt to the changes in immigration policy. There are fears that a cliff edge-style Brexit could be catastrophic to businesses and could lead to a skills shortage. At the moment, highly skilled work visas for non-EU citizens are only available to those earning over £30,000, but this risks excluding skilled workers earning less than this. London First identified some engineers as falling into this category.
At the moment, EU workers make up 12 percent of London’s workforce, one-third of all construction workers and more than 10 percent of NHS doctors. Mark Reynolds, chief executive of construction company Mace said he was “very aware” that businesses would need to invest in training. However, he also pointed out that the construction company was already facing a skills shortage as a result of 1 in 5 construction workers being expected to retire in the next 5 years. To lose European workers on top of this will clearly deliver a blow to the sector.
London First isn’t the only group lobbying for greater immigration flexibility after Brexit. A report of TheCityUK revealed that making a deal on market access in return for a relaxed approach to the freedom of movement rules could help generate £43 billion by 2025. However, the group noted that this wouldn’t be as beneficial as staying in the UK would be for the UK economy.
The issue of attracting the best talent to the UK is clearly at the heart of this debate. Inderneel Singh, managing director of The May Fair Hotels said: “We want to see a clear plan from policymakers which will continue to encourage great talent to the UK post-Brexit.” At this stage in the process, the government is still working to find the best solution that balances a desire to control immigration with the need to fill jobs. A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are working across government to identify and develop options to shape our future immigration system and will ensure businesses and communities are given the opportunity to contribute their views.”