Immigration controls prevent the recruitment of skilled workers from outside the EU and stunt the UK’s economic growth according to the chief executive of an Old Street start-up.
Alex Berezovskiy, founder of consultancy firm Leto, said that Britain’s immigration policy is costly, confusing and does nothing to redress the UK’s skills shortage.
“Each day we receive CVs from abroad but as soon as we realise they need a sponsored visa we have to reject them, no matter how bright they are.
“This restricts start-ups like Leto that can’t afford the £20,000 we need for sponsorship.”
Home Office migration figures showed that in the year to December 2012, work related visas had dropped by three per cent, largely related to highly skilled workers.
There was also an 11 per cent fall in grants of permission to stay permanently and 26 per cent fewer study visas were issued.
Berezovskiy, a Russian web-entrepreneur who studied in the UK before founding Leto in 2012, has been waiting over a year to receive visa to remain in the country.
“The only reason I’m here is because my girlfriend is from the UK.
“My company is creating jobs. That should be an incentive for government to welcome me. Instead, they’re strangling their own economy.”
Under free movement laws anyone in the EU has the right to work in the UK.
The government is currently clamping down on immigration as part of a pledge in 2010 to slash net migration from 216,000 to “tens of thousands” by 2015.
In a 2011 speech in Madrid, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith urged UK firms to give unemployed young Britons “a chance”, rather than relying on foreign workers.
Berezovskiy, however, contents that the talent needed in Tech City – mainly programme and software developers – is difficult to find in the UK.
“Silicon Roundabout is a place imagined by people who are already there. We need to promote it, and make it a cool place like Silicon Valley where people aspire to work.”
Alicia Navarro, 36, founder of business referral company Skimlinks, employs workers from outside the EU on sponsored visas.
“Product management skills are in short supply in the UK,” she said.
“Skimlinks has about 15 different nationalities in our 50 person company and we love that. It keeps things interesting and you get a diversity of opinions and approaches to problems solving.”
The Centre for London’s report, A Tale of Tech City, published July 2012 found that the under-supply of skilled developers in the UK and visa restrictions on non-EU staff worried business leaders in the capital.
One interviewee said: “We don’t need ICT trained people. We need real computer scientists who do software engineering and programming. Poor education coupled with visa restrictions is not a particularly good combination.”
Berezovskiy added: “If I were a student in Moscow looking to move abroad again he would consider going to America instead.”
“Talented foreigners feel Britain doesn’t want them. Soon they will take their skills to other countries.”
In December the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK’s leading business lobbying organisation, warned that immigration policy risked holding back growth.
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills said: “It’s vital for Britain to be seen as open for business. Employers need a system which doesn’t just control migration but attracts the skilled workers the economy needs, who would otherwise go to our competitors.
“Firms say UKBA’s ongoing weak operation and unacceptable delays are creating a long lasting, negative perception of Britain as a place to do business. Getting a firm grip on this has to be the top priority for ministers.
“The net-migration target is unlikely to be met by 2015, despite ongoing reforms. We are concerned that yet more short-term changes to hit this political goal risks holding back growth, deterring investment and damaging universities. Businesses need policy stability – so we welcome early indications from Home Office that it will keep further changes to a minimum.”
Business secretary Vince Cable, speaking to parliamentary magazine The House last month, has meanwhile disowned the Coalition’s promise to reduce net migration to tens of thousands.
He said: “It isn’t government policy, it is Conservative policy. And it’s also not true, because that policy purely relates to non-EU people. We have obviously no control over the European Union and that is actually where much of the movement comes.
“The reducing to under 100,000 is not government policy and it would be unattainable without, if it was attainable enormous damage would be done, notably through overseas students, which is one of the biggest components, actually.”
Australia, Canada and the US all currently have visas specially designed to attract business and students.
Britain’s pro-business “exceptional talent” visa, which replaced the “highly skilled” visa in 2011, fast-tracks the immigration non-EU entrepreneurs with over £50,000 backing. In 2011 seven of the 1,000 exceptional talent visas were awarded.