U.K.’s Falling Immigration Is a Boon for May, But Not for Business

Net immigration to the U.K. is likely to fall to 180,000 in 2018, the closest the government has come to meeting its longstanding target of a reduction to the “tens of thousands.”

That’s the forecast on Tuesday from the Institute of Directors. The decline by at least 50,000 is good news, on the face of it, for Prime Minister Theresa May, who failed to get anywhere close to the goal during her six years in charge of immigration policy as home secretary and, latterly, 18 months as premier.

But business doesn’t see it the same way.

Small and medium-sized ones in particular, “will find it more difficult to recruit the people they need for our economy to prosper, resulting in a labor market tightening,” the institute said. “Some firms will feel pressure to raise wages but others will struggle to cope and will consequently stagnate or downsize.”

That’s hardly the picture of a vibrant economy that May’s seeking to project as Britain negotiates its departure from the European Union. But for May, meeting the target -- which dates back to 2010 -- is one of the keys to delivering on the verdict of the Brexit referendum in 2016. 

Her Conservatives have stuck doggedly to their immigration target even as net migration soared as high as 336,000 in the year through the end of June 2016. Since the referendum, quantities have been falling, a combination of EU workers feeling less welcome and less secure, and net immigration for the year through June 2017 was 230,000.

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