The capital is much more reliant on European workers than other areas of the country: in 2015 more than 700,000 London workers were people born in other European countries. These made up 13 per cent of London’s workforce (twice the proportion of the rest of the UK) and included those working at all skill levels and in all sectors.
A similar proportion of London’s students are from other European countries. Losing access to talent from across the EU would drain London’s businesses and its universities, but could also impair London’s character as an open and welcoming city.
The vote to leave the EU makes it more important than ever that we ensure Londoners have the skills they need to thrive. Unemployment rates in London are as low as they have ever been, but more could be done to help Londoners into work. High childcare costs mean that the capital has lower rates of employment for women with children, and national apprenticeship and skills programmes are not offering Londoners the skills they need for London’s growth sectors.
• The Government should commit to devolving responsibility for early years education and childcare to London and other cities, and give them greater control over apprenticeships and other skills funding.
But London needs to remain open to international talent too. This includes high-skilled professionals in medicine, law, and other highly specialised sectors, but it does not end there. London also relies the mid-skilled workers who keep the city’s bars, cafes, building sites and care homes running, and on the young people who visit to learn languages and skills and start new enterprises. Many of these people work in sectors and jobs, like the growing tech sector, where the bureaucracy and cost of directly recruiting overseas and seeking work permits would be prohibitive for employers.
London and other UK regions need to be able to take control of their own labour needs, rather than having blunt nationwide quotas imposed on them.
In London’s case, longer-term visitor visas would enable freedom of movement, within limits. EU citizens could visit to look for employment, with fast-tracked work permits for jobs in sectors where London faces shortages, and similar arrangements for entrepreneurs starting new ventures. A more generous regime could be applied for young people, enabling continuation of the frictionless flow across borders that has become the norm for a generation of young Europeans.
• The Government should introduce a regionally-managed migration system, with different regions able to define their skills needs and to agree work permit quotas with Government.
• In London’s case, one-year ‘City Maker Visas’ would allow European citizens to visit the city to look for employment or startup opportunities, with fast-track work permits for those who are successful.
• The Government should also extend working holiday visas to the EU, allowing easy access for young people for two years, with fast tracked work permit applications permitted at the end of that period.
• Open access to higher education across the EU should be maintained, with student numbers removed from net migration targets and a new post-study visa should be introduced in London to enable graduates to stay on to work.