Businesses are divided over EU immigration

Thought companies welcomed free movement of labour with open arms? Think again.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 15 May 2015

An open immigration policy is something you’d think the vast majority of senior businesspeople would support - free movement of labour within the EU means a greater pool of talent to hire from after all. But managers are actually downright divided on the issue, according to a survey by the Chartered Management Institute.

UKIP’s ears will no doubt prick up to hear that more managers actually support limiting free movement of labour within the EU - 37% compared to 33% who oppose any restrictions (the remaining 30% either don't know or don't have an opinion either way).

On the other hand, 36% favour relaxing visa rules for skilled migrants and students, while 30% are against it - perhaps they’ve never struggled to bring a worker over from further afield or bemoaned the lack of engineering graduates a la James Dyson. Taking students out of net migration figures is apparently less controversial: 40% support that as opposed to 16% against.

The survey of 1,253 CMI members, which also found a net 59% supported a rise in the minimum wage (as championed by MT's owner Lord Heseltine), spans junior managers to CEOs, so it may be that those with varied levels of hire-and-fire power have different views on the matter. The report also doesn’t compare views over any period of time, so you can’t tell whether UKIP and its ilk are increasingly winning the argument or whether pro-immigration views are actually coming back in vogue.

Nonetheless, the study indicates that British business is actually more divided on immigration than pro-EU lobby groups like the CBI and Institute of Directors would have us believe. Anyone who supports a more open-door immigration policy and the younger, less welfare-dependent workers it attracts to the UK needs to make their argument better and louder.

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