CBI conference

Prime Minister opens door to skilled migrants

Rishi Sunak at CBI conference
Rishi Sunak: I want to attract the brightest talent

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today indicated that he would allow the immigration of highly skilled workers to boost the economy while insisting he would not re-align the UK with EU laws.

Mr Sunak avoided directly answering the CBI’s calls for immigration to be used to plug gaps in the domestic workforce, saying his “number one priority” was on tackling illegal immigration which was “not a simple problem to solve”.

However, he did tell delegates attending its annual conference that he wants to ensure Britain is a “beacon” for the best people.

“I want to make sure that we can win the global race for talent,” he said. “And I’m unapologetic about wanting to deliver an immigration system which is highly competitive for the best and the brightest.”

While welcoming hints that the immigration system may be softened, business leaders were left disappointed that the Prime Minister did not set out how he hopes to grow the economy, amid a warning that Shell may shelve some of its £25bn planned investments in the UK unless the windfall tax is revised.

The warning from David Bunch, Shell’s UK country head, follows a similar statement from Alistair Phillips-Davies, CEO of SSE, at the weekend.

Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, said it was “great” to hear Mr Sunak speak about his “deeply held convictions and passion for innovation, and the role it can play as one of the most important drivers of the UK’s future economic growth.”

He said the Prime Minister started to lay out a vision for a new approach, “but what we didn’t get today are the details of the measures to achieve it.

“Businesses are making investment decisions now and need to hear more on this agenda as soon as possible.”

Earlier, Mr Danker said a more relaxed immigration regime is required to ensure businesses get the talent they need, and called for a system of one-year visas to help overcome the high number of vacancies across the economy.

“We have literally over a million vacancies in this country, we have 600,000 people who are now long-term unwell, who aren’t coming back to the labour market any time soon.

“That’s why we have to get this shortage occupation list – the list of people that we’re really missing that we aren’t going to get in Britain any time soon – and we have to get them to plug the gap while we re-calibrate the labour market in the medium term.”

Mr Danker’s call echoes an appeal by Daily Business last week and Mr Hunt’s comments in a radio interview on Friday when he hinted that he was prepared to make concessions on immigration.

He said it was “very important” for Britain to allow hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to enter the UK every year.

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