Business and Universities’ pressure to maintain immigration

The British government is trying to reduce immigration for settlement, but its efforts are being hampered by big business and the universities, as well as the immigration organisations determined to load Britain up with false obligations and shame for not fulfilling them[1].

Typical of the business pressure and its journalist allies is the article by Andrew Clark in the Times of 8th June.  As reported by Clark, the firm Johnson Mathey which is a world leader in the manufacture of catalysts for breaking up harmful nitrogen oxides in the exhausts of motor vehicles into harmless nitrogen and oxygen, is going to transfer a lot of the research work at its Technical Centre to the Far East “because it wants access to the best scientific brains in Asia”.

In the past Johnson Mathey has “brought these big brains to its laboratories in Britain before they return to Johnson Mathey’s operations in China and South Korea”.  The problem is apparently according to Clark that “the government is not letting Johnson Mathey do this because of its swingeing clamp-down of work visas.  Its immigration “sledgehammer (sic) looks ever more nuts by the day”.

Procession of Whingers

This is only the latest in a procession of whingeing.  Some universities are telling the government that their research programmes will collapse if they are not allowed to bring in non-EU students.  In the 1980s the universities told the world exactly the same thing when the Thatcher government decided to charge fees to overseas students.

What is the truth behind both sets of complaint?  It’s basically money of course, but there is a serious issue of enabling foreigners to establish new businesses where few exist before.  Impressive examples of this are London fashion and design centres.  The roles particularly of the Royal College of Art with about 1,000 (post graduate) students and the Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design with 4,000 (undergraduate) students in generating businesses set up by their present and immediate past students, around 2,000 of whom are from outside the EU and therefore subject to the UK government’s new, tighter controls, are impressive.

However the connection between the creations of Art and Fashion Design courses and new products for sale to the public is very direct and the number of associated jobs in textiles printing, dyeing and cutting, quite visible.  In number terms we are talking about a few dozen such ventures each year.  The same cannot generally be said of the main focus of the universities’ and corporate business complaints, which is their undeclared wish to continue to employ Asian and African graduates at below UK market rates.

The numbers of overseas graduates who have been able to use the two-year work permissions attached to the student visa have risen to around 250,000 in the year ending September 2011 (Office of National Statistics).  In the absence of records of those leaving the UK, anything like this number is impossible to police: in the past universities have refused to involve themselves in checking whether students actually go home, as have employers.

Many non-EU graduates holding student/work-visas have been recruited by British firms in the last 10 years on modest salaries in the £12,000-15,000 range, perhaps up to £20,000 for software and manufacturing companies.  Princely as these sums seem to those from the Indian sub-continent, where £4,000 is a good salary for an engineering graduate, they undercut British graduates by several thousands of pounds per annum, which is why employers like them.

What should be done?

Many of the Colleges of “Management” or “Business” as advertised internationally are completely phoney and the government has taken belated, though welcome, steps to close them down.  However many remain in cities like Manchester.  The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) should limit the number of validated establishments (over and above the Universities and FE colleges) to a maximum of around 100 for the whole UK.  Validation should be dependent on (a) being overseen for quality by a neighbouring university; (b) posting a £10,000 bond with the BIS department in respect of each student, recoverable only when the student is certified by the UK Border Agency as having left the country; (c) removing the right to work in Britain by ensuring that no National Insurance numbers are issued to them.

Business employment on non-EU staff

Under the new immigration rules the government has set a quota of around 19,000 per annum non-EU four-year work permits, which is about 40 each year for every FTSE 100 and 250 companies and 100 universities.

For overseas employees of a UK company, like Johnson Mathey say, brought in from abroad to work in UK establishments in a learning role, for example to take their new skills back to their own country, a bond should also be posted by the company detailing the departure date of the employee.  At present there is literally nothing to stop a foreigner from leaving their employer, retaining their National Insurance number, and simply disappearing into the workforce in a totally different role.

At present, a British company wishing to employ a non-EU national has to advertise the post it wishes to fill to EU and UK citizens for a minimum of four weeks.  For graduate level jobs that period needs considerable extension – say six months – time for the British company to set up a graduate training scheme to eventually replace the non-EU graduate by a British graduate.  Johnson Mathey for instance should not find this difficult.  Near their UK Technical Centre at Sonning, Reading University has an excellent Department of Chemistry with equipment suitable for many of Johnson Mathey’s special interests.  Down the road from their Royston headquarters lies the University of Cambridge with its world-ranked Chemistry Department – plenty of “big brains” in both departments.

All bodies trading in Britain – including Universities – must recognise they have a primary duty to employ British people wherever possible.  They should have the responsibility to establish training courses with local schools and FE colleges whenever British people, at any level from post-school to post-university, are not up to scratch.  In this way they would be cooperating in the explicitly declared public policy of reducing immigration for settlement.  

[1] One of the latest in a long line is “Women for Refugee Women”.  Some 5,000 women every year seek asylum in their own right in Britain: three quarters are refugees.  Nearly all come to Britain without papers by aircraft from Africa via other European countries, breaching the basic rule of the European Convention on Refugees which is that they must apply for asylum in the first safe country they get to.  The women have seen Britain as a “sanctuary” (Sunday Times report) which they must reach at all costs.  When did the British people agree to being made into a sanctuary for the whole world?

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