Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Plan to Make Companies List Foreign Workers Faces Backlash

  • Home secretary says it’s not racist to address immigration
  • Labour accuses May of presiding over return of ‘nasty party’

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd defended a series of policy proposals aimed at cutting the number of foreign workers at British companies after she was accused of stoking racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Under the plans announced at the Conservative Party conference, companies would have to list the non-U.K. nationals who work for them. Banks and landlords would also face sanctions if they fail to make checks on foreigners doing business with them.

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“We mustn’t ignore the fact that people do want to talk about immigration; if I want to talk about immigration, don’t call me a racist,” Rudd told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday. “We should be able to have a conversation about immigration, about what skills we want to have in the U.K. and where we need to go to get them, in order to help business and boost our economy.”

Lawmakers for the opposition Labour Party joined business leaders in criticizing Rudd over the plans, which she said are part of a review aimed at helping companies train local staff to reduce the dependence on workers from outside Britain. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt used his conference speech to announce plans to make the National Health Service “self sufficient” within a decade so that it no longer needs to rely on doctors from overseas.

 ‘Nasty Party’

“Sorry, but no, we’re not having this,” Labour lawmaker Andy Burnham tweeted over a picture of the headline ‘Firms Must List Foreign Workers’ on the front page of Wednesday’s Times newspaper. “This has been an unpleasant, xenophobic Tory Conference. Theresa May has presided over the return of the Nasty Party,” he added in a further tweet.

Rudd on Tuesday reaffirmed the government’s commitment to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands” as the U.K. heads for a future outside the European Union. It was a near-record 327,000 in the year through March.

“A lot of businesses would be saddened if they thought that having a global workforce was a mark of shame,” Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the BBC. “I don’t think they should be penalized for doing so when they have a specific skills need.”

Rudd said the listing of workers is a proposal and would be part of a wider review of immigration regulations.

Prison Threat

“It’s not something we’re definitely going to do; it’s one of the things we’re going to use in the review,” she said. “What we’re saying to businesses is ‘work with us to deliver what we need to have, which is a more skilled local labor force.”’

Landlords who knowingly rent property to illegal immigrants could face prison, Rudd told Tory activists in Birmingham, central England, on Tuesday. Banks will also have to check their clients are allowed to be in the country. She said she’s looking to toughen the conditions that companies have to meet before getting a visa for a foreign worker.

The plans were criticized by the Institute of Directors business lobby group, which said the target is “arbitrary” and has no connection to the skills needed by British businesses.

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