U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said businesses that complain about visa rules are damaging Britain’s economic prospects.
Lawyers have fielded a flood of questions from international firms following a shakeup of visa rules by the coalition government. Changes include a five-year cap on how long employees who moved to the U.K. under the Intra Company Transfer system can stay and the removal of their right to settle permanently.
Prime Minister David Cameron was tackled on the subject during a visit to Chicago last month. At a breakfast with business leaders, Jean Spence, executive vice president at Kraft Foods Inc., said the rules were stopping her company bringing people to Britain. He replied that Britain needed to control immigration and had 5 million people on out-of-work welfare.
At a lunch for journalists in London yesterday, May said there was “headroom for business to get people into the U.K.” She said companies were “sending a negative message. They should be doing their bit to show we’re open for business as well.”
May is in charge of meeting Cameron’s pledge to bring annual net migration below 100,000 from about 250,000 currently. Yesterday she described that as an “aim.”
As well as business visas, she has tightened rules for people bringing in family. She denied that these moves are in conflict with promoting economic growth.
A November report commissioned by the City of London Corporation found a lack of clarity about immigration prompting managers to postpone expansion and growth plans. It also said some companies had lost teams to other countries, and had reduced their U.K. headcount, an “early sign of a silent and potentially devastating trend for the recovering U.K. economy.”
The Home Office maintains the Intra Company Transfer route is a temporary solution for companies needing a particular skill set from overseas, while permanent jobs should be filled locally. If a U.K. applicant can’t be found, an overseas employee can use the Tier 2 general visa route, which allows for settlement after five years.
“We didn’t put a limit on intra-company transfers,” May said. “Business said to us the things that mattered are intra-company transfers and Tier 2 visas. The number of Tier 2 visas that were given so far have been under the limit that was set.”