Prime Minister David Cameron has been told by top Indian business leaders he should reverse a cap on skilled non-European migrants in order to intensify Britain’s economic engagement with India.
Bharti Enterprises MD Rajan Bharti Mittal, leading a delegation of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said on Monday that allowing more Indian skilled workers into Britain is the trade-off for deeper service sector liberations in India.
“I am very clear on this issue,” Mittal told the Hindustan Times after the meeting. “You need people to be able to move about freely in order to carry out these services.”
The private meeting followed Cameron’s recent announcement that foreign companies in Britain will be allowed to import staff under intra-company transfers in spite of a planned general crackdown on non-EU immigration.
Immigration is a tricky and sensitive issue in Britain. Unable by treaty-law to check immigration from the 27 countries of the European Union, the government has seized on skilled non-European migrants – most of whom come from India – for a placing a limit, currently set at 24,100.
But the Indian view is that the cap, which is up for review in April next year, is a protectionist measure that can deal a blow to plans to increase trade and create growth in Britain. Many British companies are unhappy about the cap, which has restricted their ability to recruit skilled Indian workers in the information technology and financial services sectors.
Companies, who have been given non-EU quotas that are only in their single digits in most cases, are facing a “real challenge” filling positions, a senior executive at a British multinational bank told HT.
“Typically, the Indian worker – because of their qualifications and experience – have an unmatched aptitude and drive to succeed,” the executive said, requesting anonymity. “As high earners and taxpayers, they are worth a lot more to the economy over their lifetime.”
Ironically, the cap comes as the Confederation of British Industries predicts the demand for highly skilled workers to intensify as Britain recovers from the recession. Some small Britain-based Indian companies that are not in manufacturing have already made relocation queries of the inward investment agency in Frankfurt, Germany.
The parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee says the cap will not bring down net immigration from the current 196,000 to the “tens of thousands” that the government wants.