The government should scrap net migration targets after Brexit and continue to allow visa-free entry into the UK by EU citizens, a leading business group has recommended.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said firms need a new immigration policy that ensures control but means the UK remains open to the skills the country needs.
That means putting an end to “blunt targets” and making it easier for firms to sponsor non-EU workers, the CBI said.
Immigration policy needs to shift away from attempting to reduce numbers and should instead be focused on ensuring that people coming to the UK make a positive contribution to the economy, the CBI said.
The report, which draws on evidence from 129,000 firms across 18 sectors, calls for the simplest possible travel arrangements for all British and European citizens to avoid lengthy border delays at sea ports and airports.
The CBI’s findings coincide with The Independent’s Drop the Target campaign, which is being run with the Open Britain campaign group. The campaign is seeking to replace the blunt approach to lowering migration to the tens of thousands with a more constructive policy.
“This is no longer a theoretical debate,” said Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general. “It’s about the future of our nation. Openness and control must not be presented as opposites.
“Scrapping blunt targets, ensuring all who come to the UK contribute and using the immigration dividend to support public services will add to public confidence.
“Many sectors are already facing shortages, from nurses to software engineers – so fast, sustainable, evidence-based action is needed.”
Businesses need different skill levels across many different sectors, not just “the brightest and best”, he said.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country.”
He added: “For Global Britain to succeed, the UK must send the right signals that show it remains open and welcoming to the world,” he said.
“That means putting migration on the table in trade talks to get us a better deal, first with the EU and then other countries, where it is clear existing visa restrictions inhibit trade and foreign direct investment.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the hospitality industry trade body, said: “This report highlights the pressing need for a future immigration policy that exists to support the UK economy, rather than one which is determined by inflexible ideology or meaningless targets.
“The CBI’s report also underlines the importance of engaging in an open and honest debate about the realities and practicalities of migration to the UK and its effect on business.
“The hospitality sector is particularly in need of a future policy that provides employers with access to talent to support continued investment and growth. This means acknowledging the need for a variety of workers across the sector at many levels, not just those who are deemed highly skilled.”