Immigration cap plan reluctantly backed by employers
Businesses have reluctantly backed the Government's planned immigration cap but drew the line at a proposal which could force employers to pay for migrant workers' private health care.
By Louisa Peacock
The Telegraph (U.K.), June 29, 2010
Home Secretary Theresa May on Monday announced a 12-week consultation to decide on a permanent annual limit on the number of non-EU arrivals entering the UK a key promise in the Conservative election campaign. Expected next April, the cap will aim to reduce net immigration from 176,000 a year 'to tens of thousands'.
However, among the options being considered alongside the cap, is a proposal that employers wanting to hire non-EU workers should pick up their private health care bill to avoid placing 'burden' on the NHS.
Companies seeking to hire from outside the EU may also be forced to offer apprenticeships to British workers.
Employers' groups, concerned that a blanket cap may damage the UK's competitiveness, said they would accept a limit providing companies could still recruit highly-skilled migrant workers to plug skills gaps in the UK.
John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: 'Introducing a cap for work permits is a valid way of balancing the need for skilled workers with the social pressures caused by immigration. But it's important that we get the structure right. It should be designed so that very highly-skilled people who are essential to work being done in Britain can get a permit more readily.'
Other employers' groups were alarmed at the prospect of companies paying for migrant workers' health care costs. A Federation of Small Businesses spokesman said: 'This would be the death knell of small employers being able to employ the best person for the job.'
John Philpott, chief economist at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: 'Employers will not look on this favourably. They will be weary of any measures that make it difficult and more costly to hire the staff that they need.' However, he conceded the health care proposal was 'sensible' if it encouraged employers to recruit British workers before going abroad.
An immediate temporary cap on non-EU immigrants, announced yesterday and due from July 16, will also mean that just 24,100 workers from outside Europe can enter the country before April 2011 a fall of 5pc on last year.