Business groups reacted angrily this week to reports of a crackdown on foreign workers in the UK.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Conservative Party conference that a tightening of immigration rules would help drive down the number of people coming into the country.
She proposed that businesses could face new tests designed to “ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do”. Firms might also be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British.
But the comments provoked a strong response from business representatives.
Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), warned: “Many companies already have a hard time bringing in critical workers when they can’t find the right skills at home in the UK, and tighter regulations may simply leave many choosing not to recruit or expand at this time.”
Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, said that it was “time to be clear about the value of migration to the UK, as well as its challenges”.
He continued: “Businesses will not welcome further restrictions on high skilled migration from key trading partners around the world, especially as a series of changes were only announced earlier this year. At a time when we need strong links globally to seize new opportunities after the referendum, being seen as open to the best and brightest is vital. And we should be clear that business does not see immigration and training as an either/or choice. We need both.”
On the suggestion that firms would have to report on the number of non-UK national workers they employ, Hardie said: “British companies invest £45bn a year training workers in the UK. But there are skills gaps right now and if firms do not fill them they cannot grow and spread prosperity.”
Tim Thomas, director of employment and skills at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, emphasized the need for greater investment in training.
“Further endless changes to regulation will frustrate employers who are simply looking to recruit the best person for the job in the absence of a functional approach from Government to the up-skilling of UK workers,” Thomas argued.
“The suggestion that businesses are not doing enough in this space will anger those employers facing the new UK training tax from next April in the shape of the apprenticeship levy,” he added. “Many will wonder why the levy money will not be used, firstly, to train UK workers in those skills which we lack and which non-EU migrants are recruited to provide.”
Being able to hire the right people for the right job is paramount, stated Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses.
“Our members will seek confirmation that entrepreneurs and the self-employed from other countries will remain welcome, as they contribute to the economic growth we all wan