North aims to woo skilled immigrants

Regional leaders are planning a concerted strategy to encourage more immigrant workers to move to the North-East.

Regional leaders are planning a concerted strategy to encourage more immigrant workers to move to the North-East.

Measures are likely to include a marketing drive in areas such as eastern Europe, and a programme of assistance for migrants to settle into the region.

It could also involve lobbying the Government to allow changes to immigration laws for the North-East.

The action is being taken in order to hit a target of 70,000 extra jobs in the North-East within the next decade.

Business leaders and development chiefs say that cannot be done without skilled immigrant labour because of the slow growth rate and ageing of the North-East's population. Regional development agency One NorthEast, business organisations, trade unions and universities will be involved in drawing up the strategy and research will now be carried out into which jobs to target.

ONE director of strategy Pat Ritchie said: "We're competing in a global market to attract people and this strategy is a recognition of that.

"Talented people can move around the globe and the North-East has got to make sure it can attract people in that market."

Assistance on offer could include help to set up bank accounts or to sign on with a doctor, along with efforts to ensure immigrants integrate into North-East communities to encourage them to stay long term.

Asked where workers could come from, Mrs Ritchie said: "There's obviously opportunities afforded by the new states coming into the European Union, but there's also opportunities for attracting people from the States and from Asian countries."

She said there could be efforts to encourage Government to change immigration rules to allow moves similar to the Scottish Executive's scheme of extending overseas students' visas. "But at the moment the focus is doing it within the current framework," Mrs Ritchie said.

CBI regional director Sarah Green said a 1% increase in population through inward migration produced a 1.3% rise in GDP.

She said: "The ability to recruit abroad to plug immediate shortfalls in the labour market is essential for firms in this region but we need to do this in parallel with addressing skills shortages in our indigenous workforce and supporting people on incapacity or unemployment benefit back to work."

North East Chamber of Commerce spokesman Mike Parker said: "One of the most important challenges is to retain our best talent. This can then be backed by a structured approach to attracting the right people to take up roles we cannot fill."

TUC regional secretary Kevin Rowan said: "This isn't an optional extra - it's an essential part of regional economic development.

"We don't want to see people displaced from existing jobs - that would be of no added value to the regional economy and would only cause tensions.

"We want to attract people with the right kind of skills to add value to the regional economic base."

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