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Sarah Green column

Reading some of the tabloid headlines over recent months, it would have been easy for the man on the street to see immigration as a thoroughly bad thing.

Reading some of the tabloid headlines over recent months, it would have been easy for the man on the street to see immigration as a thoroughly bad thing.

But, in such a politically charged atmosphere, it's important to take a clear-headed review based on the evidence. And this is what CBI called upon Government to do - and we added an employer perspective to a political debate.

Put simply, immigrants are bringing skills to our economy that we lack, and doing jobs that our own population won't, so the benefits they bring are clear.

Their presence helps the economy grow a 1% increase in the population through migration delivers an increase in GDP of between 1.25 and 1.5%.

And it's clear migrants are filling gaps at all levels of the economy. Recent CBI research demonstrates that the demand for skilled migrants is as high as, and in some sectors higher than, demand for unskilled labour.

Government figures back this up - 21% of immigrant workers have a degree compared to 17% of UK-born workers, with their wage on average 13% higher.

The ability to recruit abroad to plug more immediate shortfalls in the labour market is essential for firms. However, immigration can never be a sustainable alternative to addressing skills shortages in our indigenous workforce, nor can we ignore the need to help more people on incapacity or unemployment benefit back into work. Both of which are key concerns in our region.

It's the huge under-estimation of how many people would come to work in the UK that has led to a lack of public faith in the Home Office's grip on the situation, and that's what we need to address.

That's why we've welcomed the Government's suggestion that "very gradual access" is given to the labour market for workers from Romania and Bulgaria.

In the North-East we are asking the Home Office to consider a differentiated approach to immigration policy allowing relatively underpopulated areas which need economic growth such as our region to attract talent from overseas on more positive terms than those areas feeling the strain on essential services of over-population.

The North-East needs to send the message we welcome new workers if we are to feel the huge benefits immigration can deliver.

Sarah Green is regional director of CBI North-East.

 

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