UK businesses need to retain EU talent post-Brexit

There are obvious benefits of attracting European and international talented workers to London, such as filling the skills gap, contributing to Britain’s national economy, and enabling firms to operate across borders.
The other advantage of a diverse workforce is subtle; a varied mix of nationalities serves to deepen societies knowledge of different cultures and ways of living.
London has long been one of the world’s leading financial hubs.
Achieving this position has, in part, been down to its ability to attract people from all over the globe to live and work in the capital.
The mix of culture, history, and job prospects makes it a vibrant and thriving city, where opportunities are plentiful.
In order to retain its stance as the pre-eminent financial hub, it is vital that London keeps this international outlook.
It needs global talent to serve a global sector.
The City of London Corporation has analysed the data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which reveals how vital European workers are to the financial district of the capital city.
With 18 per cent of the City’s (financial district) entire workforce coming from parts of Europe, it’s the highest figure ever recorded in the 13 years the data has been obtained.
To put this into context, around one in every five people working in the financial district come from the continent, or, more specifically, the European Economic Area.
The detail on the sectors that the European workforce is choosing to pursue is even more insightful.
Looking at the professional services sector specifically, the data reveals that 12 per cent of the City’s workforce hail from Europe — this is more than double the share of four years previously, when European workers in this sector stood at just five per cent.
Separately, the financial and insurance sector is currently staffed by 13 per cent continental workers, which, compared to the previous decade, when the figure was just eight per cent, is a significant increase.
This data crystallises the importance of European workers to the UK’s biggest financial centre, and the need for a clear post-Brexit immigration policy.
Immigration was a central focus of the Brexit vote itself and has since been a sticking-point for both sides of the negotiating teams.
It’s the only element of Brexit that will directly affect the lives of many Europeans living in the UK, and vice versa.
Despite this there is more information to come — with ongoing negotiations — on the future status of people who are living in the UK or in the EU.
Most recent migration figures, showing a decline in the number of arrivals from the EU, will have put the frighteners on businesses already worried about a skills shortage.
The numbers should also focus the minds of ministers on a burning question: what kind of immigration system they want? — bearing in mind the requirements of British companies.
Although the ministers’ talk of getting overall net migration down to the tens of thousands — the figure goes back to the time when David Cameron mentioned it after taking office from the Labour government — might still be a way off, the numbers are dropping and it raises important policy questions for those tasked with securing the UK’s post-Brexit economic future.
There are still more EU nationals in Britain today than were this time last year, and net migration from outside the bloc has risen, largely driven by arrivals from Asia.
While it is too soon to detect a trend, the latest figures on EU migration does force the government to consider the consequences of a sustained drop in workers from the continent.
Economists have repeatedly warned that a government can either have economic growth or it can have net migration reduced to tens of thousands as it had planned, not both.
Of course, the economic argument is only part of the equation, and pro-immigration advocates who talk only in terms of economic gains hardly help their cause among people who haven’t felt such gains.
There is no quick and simple solution when it comes to matters of immigration.
It’s a highly complex element of the Brexit negotiations.
Although much has been agreed on this issue there is need for complete satisfactory solution and one which — in the context of this article — favours businesses in Britain as well as helps the EU migrants.
(The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at andyjalil@aol.com)