17 Sep 2010

Business group backs Cable on immigration cap

A business organisation campaigning against the government’s cap on immigration tells Channel 4 News Cabinet minister Vince Cable is right to say that the measure is damaging the economy.

London First wants the cap to be scrapped and replaced with the former points system, where would-be immigrants from outside the European Union (EU) who want to work in Britain are awarded points based on their skills and the needs of the economy.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable said the cap on non-EU workers was proving “very damaging” to British business interests and the restrictions should be be applied more flexibly.

Interviewed in today’s Financial Times, he said his department had examples of companies which have reduced investment or relocated operations because the cap stops them accessing key staff.

Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, told Channel 4 News: “We would endorse his comments. The points-based system was working. They shouldn’t have a hard and fast cap. They should raise the bar on the points system.

“Perhaps in a misguided attempt to please their political masters, the immigration authorities are crippling British business with their witless, dogmatic implementation of the interim cap. I have lost count of the number of employers who have raised this issue with me as an urgent priority.”

Business Correspondent Siobhan Kennedy spoke to Swapna Bikale, an architect in London who had her visa application turned down because of the cap.

She will have to return to India. Ms Bikale said: “Your skills are more important than your nationality. You get a job based on your skills and I think it’s fair enough to work in any country if you have the correct amount of skills to work for the company.”

There is anger within the business community because many companies are now able to recruit only small numbers of non-European staff as a result of the coalition government’s interim cap on work visas for people entering Britain.

Last week Channel 4 News reported that London Mayor Boris Johnson had told the government its cap would damage the economy.

“A lot of damage is being done to British industry,” the business secretary said.

He continued: “Of course I’m part of the government, and we have a policy that we all subscribe to, which is that there has to be an overall cap on migration from outside the European Union.

“Nonetheless, I am the business secretary and I have to represent business and the contribution that business makes to the British economy.

“The brutal fact is that the way the system is currently being applied is very damaging.”

He declined to name the companies which have complained, but said they included the investment banking, engineering and pharmaceuticals sectors.

London First said it knew which companies he was talking about because they were members of the organisation. But it said they did not want to go public with their criticisms.

Mr Cable’s Liberal Democrat party does not favour the Conservative plan for a cap on immigration, which was agreed as part of the coalition deal struck in May of this year.

The business secretary will hope that his comments soothe the party faithful ahead of the forthcoming party conference.