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Businesses urge UK to abandon net migration target post-Brexit

London

THE UK should drop its net migration target after Brexit and introduce a system for arrivals from the European Union that better meets employers' needs, Britain's biggest business lobby group said.

The recommendations published on Friday by the Confederation of British Industry come as the UK prepares to end freedom of movement from the EU after it leaves the bloc. EU workers account for between 4 and 30 per cent of the workforce in every UK sector, according to the CBI.

"The stakes couldn't be higher. Get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country," said Josh Hardie, deputy director-general at the CBI. "The needs are more complex than only ensuring that the UK can attract the 'brightest and best'."

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Other CBI recommendations include guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to remain even in a "no deal" scenario, making sure businesses have at least two years to adapt to any new immigration rules, and introducing compulsory registration for EU citizens when they arrive in the UK.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government has a longstanding target to reduce net migration to below 100,000 a year, and freedom of movement from the EU was also a rallying point for Leave voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The number of people moving to the UK from the EU fell to the lowest level in nearly four years in 2017, according to the Office of National Statistics, though overall net migration was well above the government's target at 282,000.

The government said earlier this year that EU citizens living in the UK won't see any change to their rights until January 2021. After that, individuals will only be granted "settled status" if they arrived before the end of 2020 and once they've been living in the UK for five years. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a leading eurosceptic, said last month that EU citizens should have no special access to the UK.

In a breakdown of 18 key sectors in the UK the CBI found EU nationals made up 17 per cent of banking and finance employees, 10 per cent of doctors, and as much as 20 per cent of the railway industry's workforce. BLOOMBERG