Immigration cap under pressure from business

The government is coming under increasing pressure from business to drop its immigration cap, as I predicted in a somewhat flippant post back in May. Now the Law Society has waded in saying that City law firms might relocate if they can’t recruit the talent they need from overseas. Which sounds a bit strange when you consider the relatively high level of unemployment among lawyers and law graduates.

The UK now finds itself in the curious situation where it has both unemployment and skills shortages in many sectors of the economy. The response of many companies is to look overseas for talent.

The Guardian’s Phillip Inman believes that the professions are now experiencing the sort of pressure from immigration and outsourcing that once only applied to manual workers. It’s now much easier to outsource white-collar work and to attract skilled professionals from other countries. British firms have long been criticised for being unwilling to train manual workers, preferring to recruit them once someone else had spent the time and money on developing their skills. It looks as though something similar might be happening to jobs in the professions.

In the comments thread on a previous post, Charlie McMenamin discussed the ‘Wimbledonisation’ of the City, where the UK provides the venues and everyone else comes here to play but we have ever fewer people from the UK who can compete effectively. Is this process extending beyond investment banking and into other professions too? Is London’s future to be a place where people from around the world come to make their fortunes and, if so, what would that mean for our home-grown talent? 

Of course, as with the tantrums that firms kick up when further taxation and regulation is proposed, the threats to move offshore may just be a bluff to get the government to water down its proposals. London still has its advantages and its more difficult for lawyers and accountants to set up shop somewhere else than it is for investment bankers.

Nevertheless, I’m sticking with my prediction that the immigration cap will be quietly dropped, or else watered down in such a way that it won’t affect the larger and wealthier organisations. Arguments will rage about whether UK skills shortages are the fault of business, for not training people, or the government for not educating them. In the end, though, the businesses who want to bring people into the UK will get their way. As Phillip Inman says, the huffing and puffing by the anti-immigration lobby will come to nothing. Money talks and corporate money talks loudest of all – loud enough to drown out the protests from anywhere else.

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5 Responses to Immigration cap under pressure from business

  1. Rick,
    I’m not entirely sure where you come down on this issue. Maybe cleverly in the middle. And most days I’m not sure how I would feel either. Except we have very personal experience… and we’re not a big City firm.
    We’ve been trying to get someone working for 3-4 months, and the bureaucracy has made it almost impossible. Changes in policy are made retroactively, paperwork is rejected for silly errors. Leaving us unable to plan resourcing and leaving people waiting by the phone for news on the job they were sure they had.
    I suspect we’d even be happy to play by the rules… so long as it was clear what the rules were.
    I personally think talent comes here and stays. And some local talent goes and never comes back. You’re not going to put up higher and higher walls. Why not concentrate on constantly improving local talent?
    /df

  2. Pingback: Immigration cap under pressure from business - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  3. Rick says:

    David – like you I have somewhat mixed feelings on this. I never thought that the immigration cap was a runner – it was populist spin which the Conservatives used to exploit the anti-immigration feeling during the election. I believed right from the start that corporate pressure would force the government to drop it in the end, which is why I did the joky prediction in May.

    That said, it does worry me that we have high unemployment and skills shortages. Blaming the lazy feckless underclass doesn’t really wash, as many skilled people are out of work too. It’s not something I have any data for but I wonder if UK firms are taking the soft option and recruiting from overseas rather than training their own people. Our firms are more able to do this than those in, say, France and Germany because so many qualified people in the world speak English.

    Like you, though, I don’t think that the answer is a cap on recruiting workers from abroad.

  4. Cian says:

    It’s not something I have any data for but I wonder if UK firms are taking the soft option and recruiting from overseas rather than training their own people. Our firms are more able to do this than those in, say, France and Germany because so many qualified people in the world speak English.

    This has been happening in IT for almost ten years now. Its become a lot harder for new IT graduates to get new jobs, as companies would rather either outsource the entry level jobs, or hire foreigners (Indians, or E. Europeans for the most part). Ironically the foreign workers are not significantly cheaper than hiring locally once you factor in other costs, and the problems of managing them, while the risks do seem to be considerably higher. In the US it has been going on for longer, and companies have a nasty habit of advertising the job at a ludicrously low rate, then using this as evidence of recruitment problems which mean that they need to hire from overseas.

  5. Tamsyn says:

    What will become of the social care professions? There is a genuine shortage in this sector and as a South African with UK social work experience – I know first-hand that it is not a profession that is necessarily “liked” by many British people who are capable of taking it up. Although many would dispute this, it is none-the-less a necessary service, one that people like me want to do. I returned to South Africa in ’08 with the intention of completing my MSocSc degree and returning to the UK social care sector with more skills and more to offer. That now looks like it will be very difficult if not impossible, when I complete my degree in December ’11. What about other social workers in my position – who want to help but will be turned away because of this cap? And what about the vulnerable members of UK society – the children, disabled, elderly who will suffer with poorer service delivery because of an increased deficit in available workers? Social care is already operating under massive shortages and even in training British citizens, it will be years before these shortages are met. What will happen in the mean time?

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