Business chief and mayor criticise UK immigration policy

The Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, John Cridland has spoken out against the UK government's commitment to cut net inward immigration into the UK from outside the EU to 'tens of thousands' per year by 2015. He says that the government should drop the target. London Mayor Boris Johnson also attacked the government for damaging the UK's higher education sector.

When it came to power in 2010, the Coalition government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, and Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, promised to cut net immigration into the UK to 'tens of thousands' per year. This has always been taken to mean less than 100,000. Under the previous Labour government, led by Gordon Brown, the annual net immigration figure had been around 250,000 per year. Net immigration is calculated by taking the total number of immigrants and subtracting the number of people who have emigrated over the same period. This will give the increase in population caused by immigration over that period.

Mr Cridland, interviewed by The Financial Times, said that the commitment to limit immigration to a set number was problematic for many reasons. He said firstly that the government cannot make such a commitment because it cannot control the net migration figure because it has no control over the number of people emigrating. If no one emigrated in any given year, the net immigration figure would rise.

He said that the focus on a given target figure forces the government to attack all immigration when, the public is not concerned about all immigration and some immigration is beneficial to the country. For example, the public does not object to foreign students coming to the UK. Foreign students contribute a great deal of money to the economy. And yet, in order to reach the 'tens of thousands' target, the government has taken action to cut their numbers. The public does not object to skilled workers and yet the government has introduced a cap on their numbers too. This is damaging to UK business. Many small businesses now say that they cannot afford to bring in skilled workers from outside the European Union because of the bureaucracy involved. The number of student visas granted in the last year is down by 21%.

Mr Cridland said that the higher education market was worth £15bn per annum and was being badly affected by the government's policies. He said 'It's partly a perception issue. There's been so much rhetoric that it's creating its own reality. It's putting people off.'

Boris Johnson, the maverick Mayor of London, also criticised the government for damaging the export education sector. Speaking before an official visit to India, the mayor said that the UK's export education sector was being damaged by government policy to limit student numbers.

The UK Border Agency revoked London Metropolitan's Highly Trusted Sponsor status in August 2012 which meant that it was no longer entitled to admit students from outside the European Economic Area. Mr Johnson said 'We are losing a massive business opportunity here, which is completely crazy for the UK market, which is brilliant at education, to be closing itself off from some of the best and brightest students from around the world'.

Workpermit.com reported earlier this week on the fact that senior government ministers in the UK's Coalition government including the Chancellor George Osborne and the Business Secretary Vince Cable are keen for the government to drop the 'tens of thousands' target or to remove students from the statistics.

However the immigration minister Mark Harper said yesterday that it was 'wrong to suggest that controlling mass immigration did anything but help the economy. We actively encourage the brightest and the best migrants but businesses must wean themselves off their addiction to immigration.'

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