West Midland firms have voiced concerns that the planned cap on non-EU immigrants to the UK will lead to problems recruiting skilled engineers.
The Queen’s Speech outlined plans to limit the number of migrants coming into the country from places like India and the Far East - traditionally a source of scientists and engineers for UK firms who can’t find expertise locally.
Although the speech did not give away any numbers, notes attached to it set out the coalition’s ambition for net migration to be “tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands”.
According to a survey carried out by Birmingham and Solihull Chamber of Commerce (BCI), 45 per cent of members who responded said the planned immigration cap would have a negative effect on their recruitment procedures, with the remainder saying there would be no effect on their businesses.
Skills shortages were the main concern of companies, particularly those working in the high-end engineering sector.
Katie Teasdale, policy leader at BCI, said: “From balti chefs to ballerinas, very many businesses rely on employees from overseas, with specialist skills in engineering, the sciences and academia.”
But she added there was most concern among high-end manufacturing firms which needed skilled engineers.
“Some businesses rely on highly skilled people from outside the EU, in particular in the high-end engineering sector,” she said. “I have spoken to firms who have to look to the Far East to recruit engineers. There’s a lot of niche highly skilled businesses that have been pinpointed as being where the growth lies.
“There is concern that this, if is handled in a way that damages business, will be damaging for UK plc at a difficult time.”
The Government briefing attached to the Queen’s Speech said there was a need to focus on improving skills among the UK population. In the long term we should up-skill British workers so we do not need as many economic migrants to fill jobs,” it said.
Birmingham businesses responding to the Chamber’s survey agreed that more needed to be done to bring the level of skills among the local population up to scratch.
One respondent to the BCI survey said it was important to consider the skills individuals from outside the EU were bringing to the UK, as well as address Birmingham’s skills shortages.
“They should be skills which the local workforce do not possess so that businesses are able to recruit the necessary staff needed to ensure their organisations can continue to grow. More so, migrant workers are not a fix to the persistent skills shortages and gaps we face in Birmingham and the region.
“We must continue to invest in the skills and training of our future and current workforce so the private sector does not become overly reliant on migrant labour.”
The Government said final decisions on the level of the annual limit on non-EU immigration and how it will be implemented will be taken after consultation with business and “other interested sectors”.
Immigration Minister Damian Green will also lead a review of how to end the widely-criticised practice of detaining children for immigration purposes.