We need an immigration system that works post-Brexit – and the market has the answers

We need an immigration system that works post-Brexit – and the market has the answers

Our country was built on waves of migrants moving for better economic opportunities or fleeing persecution. Whether the Huguenots in the 1680s fleeing religious persecution or the Lascars (Indian scholars) migrating to the UK in the 17th and 18th century, every migrant group has shaped this country to make it what it is today.

Yet for decades, the immigration system of this country has been warped and distorted, shutting the door on some skilled workers while having no control over the movement of 500 million potential migrants. This has to change. On 23rd June 2016 we voted to take back control of our borders from EU bureaucrats.

But we did not vote to take back powers from EU bureaucrats just to let Whitehall bureaucrats enforce the same rules in the same bureaucratic manner. If we truly want to satisfy the will of the people we must build a migration system which is transparent, non-bureaucratic and works for the interests of the British people.

Currently to hire a high-skilled expert in artificial intelligence on, say £100,000, companies need to prove to the government that this type of skilled worker doesn’t exist in the UK or the EU. How on earth is a bureaucrat in the Home Office supposed to know whether that skill exists in the UK or not? Instead of strangling these companies in red tape, why don’t we create an immigration system that works with companies and market signals?

Imagine for a moment that we replaced the current system of bureaucratic visas with a market-based immigration system. Arguably the biggest challenge with immigration is the additional pressure it puts on both public services and the wages of the low-skilled. What if we designed a system which ensured that every immigrant paid their way, not just the most skilled? What if we designed a system where migrant labour was no longer able to suppress the wages of low-skilled workers who are struggling to make ends meet? What if we could do all this while ensuring that every company which needed a worker would be able to hire that worker without having to answer to a bureaucrat in Whitehall as to why they needed that worker?

You may think that this is all just a pipe dream, but it is totally feasible and realistic. What if, instead of demanding that firms prove through paperwork and legal battles they needed a worker, they bought the right to employ a foreign worker from the government? The government could charge these companies, say, £5,000 a year for every worker they sponsored from outside of the UK. This would raise revenue for UK public services and ensure that every migrant was a net contributor to the UK.

Unskilled migrants would be less attractive to British firms, as unskilled foreign labour would become more expensive to hire. Wages at the bottom would begin to grow, while firms which need genuine skilled labour would have no problem paying £5,000 to get the worker they need – and this charge could be varied as required. And I would expect, as the gains of skilled migration begin to become really apparent, the British population would actually like to see increasing migration.

We also need a system which enables migrants to engage in entrepreneurialism and build the start-ups which transform this world. At the moment, I see non-European friends who are trapped in jobs unable to try out their start-up idea in the UK and so have to leave the country to establish their companies.

Visas are currently so inflexible, that even future entrepreneurs with the savings to launch their idea are unable to take that risk, because they would instantly lose their right to remain in the UK. That exodus of entrepreneurial talent is detrimental to everything we hope to achieve in the UK. These are the people who will build the technologically ground-breaking firms which become the employment engines of the future. So why on earth are we forcing them to leave our country? It is absolute madness and this problem will only get worse after we leave the EU, as more migrants are caught in the bureaucratic machinery of the Home Office.

We must design a system with the flexibility to attract entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world. This system need not be complex and could build on the same principles as the workers’ migration system proposed above. Prospective entrepreneurs could pay an annual visa fee of, say, £10,000 to be free to live, work and do anything but claim benefits in our country. This would weed out entrepreneurs with no financial means and ensure that they pay for the cost of public services and never be a drain on taxpayer resources.

These simple reforms to our migration system would ensure that post-Brexit we, as a country, get the skilled migration we need and allow migrants to achieve the best of their potential.