UK immigration policy “politically toxic”, says business secretary

Business Secretary Vince Cable called the government’s immigration policy “politically toxic”

Business secretary Vince Cable has called the government’s immigration policy “politically toxic”, while noting how difficult it is for technology startups to hire from abroad.

Speaking at the Innovate UK event in London today, Cable said it was difficult to comment on immigration policy without being disloyal to his colleagues at the Home Office.

“But it’s an absolute pain in the neck to get a visa for overseas engineers that are badly needed here,” he said.

He told delegates about an advanced engineering company called Ricardo, which builds engines for McLaren cars.

“The chief engineer is an Indian guy, and the rules required him to go back to India in person to renew his visa, which screwed up the project management,” explained Cable. “And this happens on a big scale.”

He said one newspaper may report an immigration story in a positive light, while another newspaper on the other side of the political spectrum would write the story negatively.

“Immigration is a very, very tricky issue,” said Cable. “And we’re trying to argue an economically rational case for certain categories of people - highly skilled entrepreneurs and overseas students – who can come in with the minimum of impediments. But you do need to understand the awkward political situation we’re operating in.”

UK technology startups are facing a hiring roadblock due to a shortage of talent exacerbated by strict immigration laws which prevent businesses hiring from abroad.

Startups seem to suffer from the strict policies the most, as they don’t have the time and money like large corporates. Earlier this year, Tech London Advocates launched a series of workshops to allow startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to immigration officials and experts.

The private sector-led coalition of technology experts has launched the programme in association with the Home Office and Tech City.

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