The business case for better migration policies: what does 2012 hold?

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We can expect business voices on migration to ring out over the coming months as economic migration policies tighten. So what will businesses be arguing for, and what is the relevance of these arguments to the migrant support sector?

As the New Year begins with more gloomy economic forecasting, we can expect an increase in the finger-pointing at migration as a major cause of today’s economic and labour market problems. But in the midst of this, many will be preoccupied by evidence to the contrary, which indicates the vital role for immigration in today’s economy – and the part that continued international mobility needs to play in supporting the UK’s economic growth into the future.

Far from being convinced by claims that there have been major negative impacts from migration over recent decades, we can expect the business community and others to put forward loudly some hard evidence about the value of migrant workers to the UK, and the need for continued economic migration in the coming months and years. This should be important ammunition for migrant advocates, as it will help to build wider debate and to generate a broad evidence base demonstrating the broad value of migration to the UK.

So what are the points we are likely to hear from business this year? First and foremost, we can expect that businesses of all sizes are going to be arguing that employment of global talent is integral to their operation and growth strategies for 2012. They will likely be pointing to evidence from the past decade that migration has brought a positive record of supporting growth in key sectors of the UK economy and, in particular, within growing and export-led sectors of the UK economy, from health and hospitality to education and financial services.

This evidence will be harnessed in response to the various consultations and policy announcements we can expect this year, from the revised level of the immigration cap from April 2012, to the government decision on whether to restrict settlement and family reunification rights for migrant workers coming here. These are all issues that have generated real concern, as evidence offered up by businesses to the Migration Advisory Committee and government in recent years has indicated.

One area that we can expect to see growing in volume over coming months is the need for stability in the Points Based System. Employers, like migrants, do not appreciate constantly changing rules as they make it more difficult to plan ahead. In addition, debate about the role of migration for small and medium business enterprises (SMEs) is likely to increase. A recent London Chamber of Commerce (LCC) report made clear the importance of immigration to these companies. As the Points Based System is further constricted by government policy, the ability of SMEs to employ the workers they need is arguably shrinking with potentially significant impacts.

Over the coming months, the space potentially opened up by business representatives is likely to be an important element of a wider shift in the migration debate, in support of the view that migration is necessary, beneficial, and vital for future growth and development. The work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration is likely to take this forward, with meetings throughout the year which touch on key issues of concern for parliamentarians and businesses alike around the economy.

Our challenge, as a migrant support sector under increasing pressure generated by today’s tough economic and political climate, will be to make sure that the migrants’ rights agenda does not get left behind in all this. The value of migration to the UK economy is, of course, only a part of the immigration debate even if it is ringing out loudly over coming months. We need to continue to argue that migrants should be treated as human beings rather than as economic units – and the coming period will require us to make these arguments more loudly and clearly than ever.

Source: Ruth Grove White (MRN)

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