London Business Wants City Visas to Avoid Brexit Skills Shortage

  • Business lobby says London depends on workers from overseas
  • Calls for permit giving EU nationals indefinite leave to stay

Businesses have proposed granting visas to European Union nationals in the London metropolitan area to prevent any migration curbs after the Brexit vote leading to a shortage of workers.

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The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Thursday that about 25 percent of London’s workforce is foreign, while EU nationals account for a huge proportion of workers in industries including finance, construction and hospitality. If they suddenly needed work visas under current immigration rules, London would lose 160,000 workers and face a 7 billion-pound ($8.7 billion) negative economic impact, the LCCI said, citing a report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research.

The call follows a PricewaterhouseCoopers study last month that said the U.K. should adopt a regional visa system to allow it to deal with staffing needs once it leaves the EU. That report was commissioned by City of London Corp., which oversees the financial district. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also called for a visa system for the British capital.

London voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and Khan has said that, as much as he “might like the idea of a London city state,” he was “not planning to blockade” it. He is lobbying Prime Minister Theresa May for increased autonomy and access to talent.

The Brexit vote, and indications the government may prioritize controlling immigration, has exacerbated existing concerns about staff shortages. According to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the supply of workers has been declining for more than three years. 

“In the approaching post-Brexit scenario, for London to remain competitive, we need to not only recruit the very best but also to be able to identify where we have skills shortages and act,” said LCCI Chief Executive Colin Stanbridge.

The lobby wants a one-off, single-issue London Work Visa granting current EU nationals indefinite leave to remain. It said the government could decide eligibility -- such as employment in London on the June referendum day or the triggering of Article 50 -- to mitigate against a sudden influx of new arrivals.

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