Immigration targets will have to be scrapped after Brexit to allow companies to recruit enough staff, the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) has said.
The organisation has warned that uncertainty over the issue means UK firms are already suffering from a shortage of migrant workers and that the ‘blunt target’ immigration policy will have be scrapped after Britain leaves the EU.
The Confederation singled out the health service and the food and farming industries as sectors that would be worst hit unless a more ‘open’ approach is adopted.
The move will frustrate many Brexit supporters, who have argued that immigration should be more tightly controlled after Britain’s departure from the EU.
A CBI report shows that a more open immigration policy must be put forward as part of Brexit negotiations with Brussels to keep public services running and businesses staffed.
Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director general, said: ‘This is no longer a theoretical debate. It’s about the future of our nation. Openness and control must not be presented as opposites.
‘Scrapping blunt targets, ensuring all who come to the UK contribute and are using the immigration dividend to support public services will add to public confidence.
‘Many sectors are already facing shortages, from nurses to software engineers – so fast, sustainable, evidence-based action is needed.’
The report. Open and Controlled – A New Approach To Migration, shows evidence from 129,000 firms across 18 industry sectors proving the importance of migration at all skill levels.
The report highlights how businesses do not just need ‘the brightest and best’ immigrants, but different skill levels across many different sectors.
Hardie outlined the contribution made by EU immigrants to building Britain’s houses, from labourers and electricians to architects, and in food and drink, starting with farm workers, through logistics and into hospitality.
He said: ‘The stakes couldn’t be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country.
‘This would hurt us all – from the money in our pockets to our access to public services.
‘The needs are more complex than only ensuring that the UK can attract the ‘brightest and best’.’
He has called for greater migration to be part of any future trade deal negotiations that would allow the UK economy to grow, as well as reform of the non-EU immigration system of visas.
‘For Global Britain to succeed, the UK must send the right signals that show it remains open and welcoming to the world,’ he added.
‘That means putting migration on the table in trade talks to get us a better deal, first with the EU and then other countries, where it is clear existing visa restrictions inhibit trade and foreign direct investment.’