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Immigration policy: the manifesto for business

30th April 2015

The business lobby has been a consistent voice advocating freer movement throughout the last Parliament.  In the current election campaign, what would a business “immigration manifesto” look like? These are some key messages from recent months:

  • Tier 2 visas should be available without a monthly cap:  Raising the Tier 2 skilled visa cap as the economy recovers is a headline policy of the CBI and the Institute of Directors has supported this also.

  • The net migration target should end as it is not helpful to business:  The CBI call this an unhelpful target for its members.  Mark Hilton of London First has argued: “Those who work to get the right people with the right skills into the UK won’t mourn its passing . . . Now we need to dust off the welcome mat and carry on attracting the engineers, tech experts and other workers with the skills we sorely need.”

  • The present system of sponsorship could be simplified:  The London Chamber of Commerce has suggested the Home Office should simplify visa application procedures, including exemptions from the Resident Labour Market Test for smaller businesses.

  • International students could be allowed to work in the UK after graduation:  Reintroduction of the Tier 1 Post Study Work category has consistently been advocated by universities and businesses. 

Do the parties deliver these aspirations in their manifestos? Here is the scorecard: 

  • Tier 2:  No major party advocates ending the Tier 2 quota.  UKIP would introduce immigration controls on EU citizens which would make it harder to obtain a visa for employment.  The Labour Party would retain a monthly cap on the number of Tier 2 Certificates issued and the Conservatives would presumably keep this also.

  • Net migration: The Conservative target of net migration below 100,000 remains an “ambition”, but no longer a specific policy commitment.  UKIP’s policy is a low net migration target of 50,000.   The Liberal Democrats and Green Party suggest opposition to any form of net migration target.   

  • Simplification:  There is no mention of this in any manifesto.  UKIP’s proposals would require significantly more Government regulation to implement.  The Liberal Democrats advise they would double the number of inspections to ensure all statutory employment legislation is being respected.   

  • International post-graduates:  The Green Party and Scottish National Party support the reintroduction of Tier 1 Post Study Work, the latter having consistently made a case that this would benefit Scotland.  The Liberal Democrats have proposed this for some students and Labour may re-examine this. 

Which party delivers the “immigration agenda” for business?   None offer all the above, but those parties who support the lowest level of regulation of immigration could be considered the most “business-friendly” in this context. 

Are manifesto promises regarding immigration implemented in any event?  Immigration policy tends to be reactive rather than something which can be planned years in advance. It may therefore prove sensible for the parties to have made so few immigration commitments in advance of the election.


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