Businesses under pressure on immigration

7 Mar

George Anastasi, Policy and External Relations Adviser

Last week I attended a conference on immigration.  Numerous ‘sponsors’ of migrant workers were present – i.e. companies that apply for work permits, and amongst them there was a general feeling of malaise that couldn’t have been down to the 7:30am start alone.

Most were worried about the new immigration rules – particularly those surrounding intra company transfer work permits (“ICTs”) which PCG has campaigned so hard to change, amongst allegations that they displace UK IT workers. These new rules are coming into force in April and make it more difficult for a company to engage an ICT worker.

The sponsors were acutely aware of the increasing difficulties they each had sourcing or recruiting staff from outside the EU. It was interesting to hear their views – most of those present used freelancers often, in addition to migrant labour, and they came from a variety of sectors.

I suspect most of those present were not the abusers of ICTs which we have been targeting in our lobbying. Apart that is, from possibly one woman, who in a Q+A session asked whether she could continue to pay her ICT workers “substantial bonuses”, and was then politely informed by a senior UK Borders Agency official that doing so has always been against the rules. I expect she’ll be getting some not-so-polite letters in the post from UKBA.

We huddled in a small, rather cold conference room to hear from Neil Hughes, Director of Temporary migration at the UK Borders Agency. Hughes confirmed what many in the room already expected- the trend in immigration policy was that it was going to get more restrictive and that this was highly unlikely to change any time soon.

The Government’s commitment to reduce net migration down to the tens of thousands would inevitably result in further changes to the immigration system. Many of these changes will likely end up being positive for PCG members as they will make abuse of the system much less likely. Those in the room seemed to accept this – and there was by the end of the day a genuine willingness from the businesses present to work with the new rules.

In securing these changes to ICTs, PCG has reached a major milestone and the Government has taken great strides in improving the situation.

The fact is, immigration is a tricky issue for politicians. Many politicians don’t want to touch it, some have built their entire careers, and even political parties, upon it. It involves the balancing of a whole gamut of factors – public opinion, social impacts, business needs, protectionism, liberalism – which makes the recent successes of PCG’s campaign against ICT abuse something that should definitely not be taken for granted.

Clearly the needs of PCG members have to be balanced against genuine business needs, which politicians are likely to find extremely difficult. The new rules on Intra Company Transfer permits will do much to reduce abuse, and will help to create a level playing field for contractors, without unduly burdening legitimate businesses.

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