UK financial sector wants immigration reform

BY Richard Summerfield

With less than a year to go until the UK’s exit from the European Union becomes official, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the process. However, the financial services sector, given its importance to the UK’s economy, is making its feelings known. A new report from EY and TheCityUK, ‘The UK’s future immigration system and access to talent’, has suggested that the government must urgently review the country’s immigration system if it hopes to succeed post-Brexit.

Ensuring that the UK’s financial sector is able to access skilled overseas talent is vital to the UK maintaining its pre-eminence as the leading international financial centre, the report claims. The sector raises more than £70bn per year in taxes. However, the cost of bringing skilled European workers into the UK could increase by up to 300 percent if existing immigration rules are applied unchanged to European citizens, and if planned Tier 2 visa fee increases come into effect.

“As we approach Brexit, there is a real need to review and reform the UK’s immigration policy to ensure it supports businesses and skilled overseas talent looking to contribute to the UK economy. The current Tier 2 visa system is out of date – we need a much more flexible and dynamic system, which responds to today’s very real skills shortages, particularly around technology, which will worsen if not addressed,” said Margaret Burton, a partner at EY. “People are the foundation of any company. Without access to the right talent, the UK’s future position as a global business leader will be under threat.”

“Britain’s success is built on openness,” said Miles Celic, chief executive officer of TheCityUK. "Being able to attract and retain the most talented people with the right skills, from both the UK and overseas, is a top priority for business leaders across the industry. The UK’s ability to draw global talent has long been a competitive advantage. Losing this could undermine Britain’s position as the world’s leading financial centre. A basic immigration system that is fit for the UK’s needs, future focused and fair is essential. Simply applying the current immigration system for non-European citizens to European citizens after Brexit will not work. Doing so is likely to worsen existing skills shortages and make it much harder to attract the talent British firms need to compete on the world stage following Brexit.”

The report sets out nine key recommendations which could reform the UK’s immigration system and still allow firms to access global talent while reducing the skills shortages which are holding back UK economic and productivity growth.

However, the financial services space is not the only industry demanding the government take action. The healthcare and agriculture sectors have also demanded unimpeded access to international talent after Brexit. Such demands will place additional, considerable strain on the government which is already struggling to map out a Brexit which will please ‘Leave’ voters, many of whom want tougher immigration controls.

Report: The UK’s future immigration system and access to talent

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