Immigration is headlining the political agenda again, despite a surprising post-Brexit slide down the list of public concerns. Behind in the polls, and already the third Prime Minister in a Parliament elected on a promise to “take back control of our borders”, Rishi Sunak clearly feels compelled to make a stand. Illegal channel crossings in dangerous small boats have reached record numbers, net immigration has ballooned since the pandemic, and undelivered promises can no longer be blamed on EU membership. “Stopping the boats is not just my priority. It is the people’s priority”, he told Parliament recently.
Polls suggest that “the people” are most worried about the economy. Business has as its priority the ability to compete in a globalised interconnected work. Without the skills and labour force to do that, they can’t. Elsewhere in the immigration system, delays, errors, under-resourcing and an inflexibility in adapting to the post-pandemic business environment frustrate employers who are prepared to pay significant fees to secure the skilled migrants they need, quickly. We set out more detail of this, and steps for dealing with it in our guide.
The Illegal Migration Bill seeks to remove anyone found to have entered the UK unlawfully within 28 days, and subject them to a re-entry ban. They will be barred from applying for British citizenship in future. It is a bold and ambitious policy that few experts think will long survive contact with reality.
Meanwhile, an increasingly polarised debate rages over the immigration uses that Brexit was supposed to resolve. How much migration does the UK economy need? How far should investment in skills, technology and training reduce that need? What measures are appropriate to balance our international obligations to refugees with the prevention of illegal migration that puts lives at risk, fuels crime and damages the economy? Even business leaders disagree. Matthew Davies, Wright Hassall’s head of business immigration discusses this in two video casts:
Lord Wolfson’s comments on Government policy “blocking skilled migration”.
What is the economic impact of migration to the UK?
Elite BBC football pundit Gary Lineker’s tweets comparing the Government’s line to Nazi Germany, his suspension and reinstatement, have fuelled the debate.
Against that background, our business immigration practice’s clients are telling us that their priority is to cut through Government delays and systemic problems to bring onboard the skilled people their businesses need, on time. They are willing to pay the legal and Government fees to make that happen. They want new, more flexible immigration routes to address skills gaps. Yet the intermittent suspension and failure of paid-for priority services, and lack of clarity as to the compliance duties imposed on them as sponsors and employers of migrants are a common frustration amid demands on a creaking system. The economic impacts are real; it just doesn’t make the headlines.
The Government has announced new business-based routes to reflect the important of post-Brexit international relationships and the need to be competitive. The Chancellor’s package of Spring Budget measures to tackle labour shortages and ease short term business visit visa process for some nationalities. These are unlikely to have a major real-world impact, however. Similar tactics worked for Tony Blair when he announced the solution to the UK’s perceived immigration problems via the Points Based System ahead of the 2005 general election. We need solutions, not slogans, retort today’s opposition. In truth, failed initiatives to tackle illegal migration have been the story for a quarter of a century, under successive Governments of all parties, whilst business and employment immigration has borne increased cost of applications, greater compliance burdens and a system that is often unresponsive to its needs. The Spring Budget identified employment, education and enterprise as priorities for delivering growth and a high wage high skill economy, but critics pointed out its dependence on sustaining the very high migration levels that the Government claims it is trying to reduce.
The boats keep coming, the tragedies mount, and the strain across the entire UK immigration system blocks migration of the skilled, sponsored and entrepreneur applicants who businesses think we need. But businesses need answers – go to our guide on navigating the system.