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.