Ensuring that the capital can continue to attract global talent once the UK has left the European Union was be top of the agenda at a summit hosted by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
The Mayor says that London has a proud history of welcoming talented people from across the world, and migration is crucial for the capital’s economy, with 616,000 people born elsewhere in Europe currently working in London – 12.5 per cent of the entire workforce.
The Mayor is concerned that the government’s perceived preference for “an extreme, hard Brexit” will place restrictions on the number of skilled workers who are able to come to the capital, potentially damaging investment and growth in the city.
The City Hall summit will discuss how a flexible system to attract the talent London needs is needed for the capital so it can remain the best city in the world to do business.
Points raised at the summit will help to inform the Mayor’s monthly meetings with David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
The summit also considered what should be done to make it easier for high-skilled workers and students from other key partners, such as India, China and the United States, to come to Britain.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Attracting talent from across the world is part of this city’s DNA. London voted decisively to remain in the EU. Although Britain has voted to leave the EU, we cannot use that as an excuse to pull up the drawbridge and close our doors to the skilled workforce our economy needs to thrive.
“If the government continues to speed ahead full throttle with a dangerous form of Brexit that prioritises restrictions on migration over supporting economic growth, the end result will be fewer jobs, reduced investment and lower tax revenues across the entire country.
“All the experts I speak to tell me, loud and clear, that securing access to talent is at the top of the Brexit shopping list. There are already interesting options on the table for London-specific migration systems and if the government will not listen to our genuine concerns we will not hesitate to look at them in much greater detail.”
Sadiq has also set up Skills for Londoners to train up Londoners to have the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs, but it will remain the case that skilled workers from the EU are vital to the capital’s economy, with 95,000 employed in the construction industry, 49,000 in financial and insurance activities and 58,000 in professional, scientific and technical activities. Many of those working in these industries are employed in senior roles.
Sadiq is also arguing that the best way to safeguard continuing prosperity was for the UK to remain in the Single Market. He believes that free movement has in general benefitted the London and UK economies but accepted that, as part of the negotiations, discussions should be held about what appropriate restrictions on free movement could be permitted, and in what circumstances.
The Mayor says that if the government moves ahead with plans to leave the Single Market in order to curtail immigration, and following that fails to offer a flexible skilled migration system for London, Sadiq will look in greater detail at London-specific proposals.
Julia Onslow-Cole, Head of Immigration at PwC, said: “”Skills shortages are at the top of the agenda for many Businesses. It is imperative that we swiftly resolve the situation of EU citizens and map out a flexible and agile immigration policy for the future. A future immigration policy with regional differences is an optimal way forward.”
Mark Hilton, immigration and employment director at London First, said: “London’s global workforce makes a huge contribution to the UK’s economic success, creating around £83 billion each year. Business leaders are working together to propose a realistic way forward that will manage immigration while ensuring we stay open to the people we need post-Brexit. We will do more to develop skills but there’s no getting away from the fact that we need to continue to attract the doctors, engineers, care workers, builders and other talented people that contribute so much, otherwise we risk damaging our economy at a time when London, and the UK, needs to be firing on all cylinders.”