UK: Is The Brexit Immigration Policy The Best For Britain

The proposed net migration target and visa cap policy that forms one of the key arguments in favour of Brexit has come under fire today with the release of the Institute of Economic Affairs' (IEA) latest report.  The leading financial think tank has set out the potential impact on the economy if the planned restrictive policy is followed. 

The IEA acknowledges the hostility that the British public exhibits towards unrestricted immigration and points out that this attitude is helping to shape policy to limit immigration despite the fact that such policies can be clearly seen to have a damaging effect on the economy and prosperity of the country, seriously hampering a number of industry sectors.  However, when the data the polls produce in relation to the public attitude to immigration is interrogated, a less polarised view is seen.  Some areas of immigration are not seen as negative by the public and can even be said to receive popular support and a blanket clamp-down is not necessarily seen as a good thing.  The public fears are not automatically based simply on numbers but are more likely to be cultural rather than volume of migrants.

The net migration targets and the potential to limit both skilled and unskilled is the principal concern for the hospitality industry and also in agriculture, both sectors rely periodically on unskilled itinerant workers at crucial periods during the year and may struggle to find British workers to fill the gaps.  The NHS also depends heavily on both skilled and unskilled migrant workers as does the financial sector.

The IEA has put forward a number of suggestions to avoid a crisis in the affected industry sectors and also placate the British public and modulate the fears that unrestricted immigration creates. The centre-right think tank advocates that the net migration target is abandoned, pointing out that other countries have managed to cope with population growths far in excess to that of any British city or region.  The IEA also recommends that there is no cap on the Tier 2 work visa for highly skilled people.  Skilled migration is an area that remains popular with the public and it is recognised that not only does the UK need such people but that they are highly productive and to limit such individuals would amount to totally avoidable self-harm for Britain, particularly in the financial sector.  Furthermore, it is suggested that rather than making it harder, the Tier 2 system should be made easier.

Another group of migrants that are popular are international students, they too should not be limited and neither should restrictions be placed on them once they have qualified and want to work in the UK, the IEA believes.

If Brexit is achieved and there is no clarity on that at the present time, the UK will need all the help it can get to keep the economy in good shape.  If new trade deals are to be struck it is essential that we have the expertise in the UK to address the market demands.  The British Government is free to choose exactly how and who is permitted to work in the UK.  It is wholly possible to allow free movement with some countries and not others, ideally on a reciprocal basis.  The present attempts to limit migration to placate the four in ten of "leave" voters who want immigration reduced "a lot" saw Home Office reject almost 2,000 medical professionals, about 1,500 IT specialists, 1,800 people who would have worked in professional services, 400 scientists and engineers, and various other skilled professionals, in the first quarter of 2018 alone.  The Government must think very carefully before saying no to such vital skills.

There is a school of thought that suggests that the public attitude to immigration is being manipulated by the media and those, politians or otherwise, who are looking for column inches. Philippe Legrain, in his IEA discussion paper Free to Move in 2016, argues that Britain's biggest problem with immigration is the chasm between the generally positive reality of immigration and often-negative public perceptions which are drawn from the stories that regularly appear in the press. This leads politicians to believe that they must be tough on immigration and support policies that serve no other purpose but to demonstrate "immigration toughness" and in truth are hard to justify, such as limiting much needed highly skilled workers. 

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the principle of the policy, the potential to cause damage to the economy must be reduced.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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