‘Open and controlled’ – a UK-wide immigration system that can work for the East of England



If you ask companies in the East of England what is their number one concern, the majority will say access to people and skills. With the East of England suffering a triple whammy of high housing costs, a reduction in applications from European Union candidates and being unable to compete on salaries with London for global and local talent, the problem is both acute and in need of urgent address.

With Brexit set to redefine the nature of the UK’s access to vital European talent, it’s time to ask what should a successful post-Brexit immigration system look like for the East of England?

This month the CBI advanced its vision for an ‘open and controlled’ immigration system that can work for all parts of the UK. It aimed to strike an important balance between being open enough to ensure businesses can attract the talent they need to succeed but controlled enough to build public trust in the system – e.g. mirroring registration processes common in other countries. We want to protect EU workers coming to Britain from burdensome non-EU visa rules and to prioritise overall contribution to the economy over arbitrary numbers and targets.

Businesses recognise that free movement will not continue as it has before. One of the many reasons people voted to leave the EU was a feeling of increased pressure on public services because of immigration. Where this has occurred, we advocate targeted investment to mitigate this additional demand. We also want to see reform of the non-EU immigration system to make it easier for firms to access people and skills from around the world. Any transition to a new system should be measured and put respect for people at its core.   

For East of England, this would be a major step in the right direction. While we don’t face any unique challenges when it comes to demand for people and skills, what sets the East of England apart from other areas of the UK is the triple whammy effect – all of the challenges, all at once. From high skilled workers in software and life sciences to seasonal workers in agriculture and food production, the East of England has a real breadth of skills needs, with pinch points in technology, engineering and agriculture. We also need to make sure any new system takes into consideration experience, not just formal qualifications.

While we aim for the best system possible, we can’t lose sight of one essential fact: people from the EU and across the world make a vital contribution to the UK economy. Brexit cannot be allowed to make EU workers feel less welcome or that their hard work and cultural contribution is not valued. It is. Without EU migrants we wouldn’t have the doctors and nurses, engineers and farmers that make the East of England such a great place to live and work. We would also lose £4 billion in taxes that help support our schools, hospitals and other public services.

Brexit, and uncertainty around future access to overseas workers, has thrown the East of England’s need for talent into sharp relief. So much now hinges on getting our post-Brexit immigration system right. People make our region and if we want to remain competitive then we need a best of all worlds immigration system that puts us at the front of the queue for international talent. 



Across the UK, the CBI speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses of all sizes and sectors. The CBI’s corporate members together employ nearly 7 million people, about one third of private sector-employees. With offices in the UK as well as representation in Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Delhi, the CBI communicates the British business voice around the world.

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Confederation of British Industry (CBi)

As the UK's most effective and influential business organisation, the CBI works to create the best environment for business and economic growth. We do this by providing a collective, progressive voice to government and policymakers on the key issues impacting businesses like yours. Together we can drive the conditions in which businesses, and everyone, can thrive

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