1. Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI has said that being able to access overseas labour of all skill levels and regardless of the eventual deal (or no deal) we strike with the EU is vital to business productivity and growth.
2. She has also said that extending to EU citizens the Tier-2 visa route currently applicable to non-EU workers would be inadequate to meet the needs of British businesses. She is wrong on both of these points:
3. While there is no dispute that skilled workers from overseas will continue to remain vital to the UK economy, there is no reason to believe that the 1.4 million UK unemployed and 1 million under-employed cannot satisfy the requirements of business for low-skilled and un-skilled workers. Especially spurious is the CBI’s claim that business productivity is dependent on access to labour when it is an infinite supply of cheap labour from overseas that has enabled UK businesses to wilfully ignore the investment in technology and upskilling of workers that is necessary to increase our currently woeful productivity levels.
4. As for the Tier-2 visa system, it has been under attack from the CBI since its inception, and yet has proven to be highly effective overall, having only caused recruitment problems in three separate months since it began in 2012.
Quite understandably the CBI is keen to see as few immigration constraints as possible because it is in their interest to ensure that labour costs remain as low as possible, but this is a very narrow view and fails to consider the wider impact of such a policy on the country as a whole and especially the lowest paid UK workers, who have been shown in studies by the House of Lords and Bank of England to be most detrimentally affected by the inflow of cheap labour.
5. There is no doubt that it will be important to have a period of adjustment to a new labour market structure, during which time it will be necessary to put in place temporary arrangements for semi-skilled workers such as builders and plumbers to continue coming to the UK. Massive population growth in recent years means that we have many houses to build, but these arrangements should stipulate a clear end date in order to incentivise British companies to train UK residents with the skills that businesses require in a modern economy.
6. An immigration policy has to consider more than simply bottom line business imperatives. The responsibility of government is to ensure security, stability and prosperity to all the British people. Absolute measures of GDP and economic growth are meaningless while GDP per capita continues to stagnate.
7. To summarise, the CBI take a narrow-minded and selfish view of immigration and the interests that immigration policy should serve. The British government owes it to all people in this country to ensure that immigration is controlled and managed for the benefit of the entire population, not simply vested interests.