Concern about UK cap on skilled workers grows

by Ray Clancy on September 20, 2010

Key businessmen and politicians are calling for a review of the UK Government’s controversial immigration cap amid mounting concerns that it is harming the economy.

Among the latest to speak out is Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who says he agrees with his colleague Vince Cable, Business Secretary, that it is resulting in firms struggling to attract skilled workers.

The Government brought in the temporary cap on non European Union immigration after the general election, ahead of a permanent cap expected to be agreed later this year and come into force in April 2011.

Business leaders though have pointed out that the cap was based on the demand for international workers in the depth of the recession and their concerns have been backed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and senior company bosses.

‘If there are clear examples where this new policy, in as much as it’s already being applied, is actually producing perverse outcomes, where we’re not actually welcoming people we should be welcoming in, we’re actually making life more difficult for British businesses than we should be, then we should be looking at that. It would be self-defeating to do anything else,’ Clegg said.

His comments come just after Mark Elborne, General Electric’s national executive for North Europe which employs 18,000 people in Britain, spoke out to reveal he had been unable to hire a stem cell research executive from India and gas turbine engineers from outside the European Union because of the Government ban.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee, has said the cap should pass the scrutiny of parliament before it is brought into force because it risks placing restrictions on friendly countries like India.

Some business leaders are worried that the cap might have an impact on Indian companies that heavily invested in the UK, as well as UK based companies that rely on workers from the south Asian peninsula, particularly in services such as IT, food and hospitality.

Anwar Hasan, managing director of Tata, the UK’s largest foreign investor which employs a total workforce of 47,000, and Som Mittal, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), the body representing India’s IT industries are being asked for their views.

Immigration Minister Damian Green admitted an annual limit on the 50,000 workers that arrive from outside the EU each year would not be enough to reduce net migration levels from last year’s figure of 196,000 to the tens of thousands envisaged.

He said it would be ‘not just wrong, but self-defeating’ to pull up the drawbridge, but added that skilled workers should not include people running take-away restaurants and production line workers.

‘We cannot assume that everyone coming here to work has skills that the UK workforce cannot offer. We will not make Britain prosperous in the long term by telling our own workers, don’t bother to learn new skills, we can bring them all in from overseas,’ he added.

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