City of London bosses ask for short-term business visas

Financial services firms in the City of London face rising costs to recruit talented employees that threaten the competitiveness of the Square Mile, according to a report by industry body TheCityUK.

The group called on ministers to create a new short-term business visa to allow foreign staff to travel to the UK. This would streamline the costs and time required to move people to regional offices under current immigration rules. The report was produced with the City of London Corporation, which governs the Square Mile, and EY.

The UK ended freedom of movement between the UK and the EU earlier this year. TheCityUK said that nine months after Brexit, companies in financial and related professional services are seeing “significant cost increases” in securing the highly skilled talent they need to compete on the global stage.

In UK-based financial services, around one-fifth of workers are international. This amounts to 42% of employees in the booming fintech industry, he said.

“To stay competitive, we need to have the world’s best talent. Without this, we will not be able to innovate in key growth areas like fintech or green finance, nor to develop our international business networks ”, said Miles Celic, Managing Director of TheCityUK.

He said rival cities were fighting for top talent from the EU, US and Asia. “The UK needs to do more to modernize its immigration processes, reducing the burden of bureaucracy and increasing its flexibility and adaptability to business needs.”

Overseas staff visiting the UK must apply for a work visa, even when the business activities are incidental or for a very short period of time, resulting in administrative fees, costs and delays. “There is no ‘middle ground’ between visitor status and a work visa,” said TheCityUK.

Tensions over the visa system are expected to increase when business travel begins to pick up again after Covid-19 prompted many companies to stop all but essential overseas travel.

Seema Farazi, a partner at EY, who helped produce the report, said that after the pandemic there would also likely be a much more agile workforce.

The group said the UK government had already made some improvements to the system, but called for more efforts to reduce administrative costs and processes for employers.

Short trips to the UK under intra-company transfer programs come at additional costs, with an Immigration Skills Fee of £ 1000 per year.

TheCityUK called on ministers to negotiate an intra-company transfer route for nationals of major trading partners on a reciprocal basis.

Immigration skills fees must be prepaid and partial refunds can take many years. Meanwhile, small employers are reporting that paying a large amount up front can lead to cash flow issues. The group argues that there was a need for greater flexibility in payment methods.

TheCityUK also said the UK does not have reciprocal youth mobility agreements with the EU. The group wants the UK to open these deals, which allow people between the ages of 18 and 30 from countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand to live and work in the UK for up to two years, more broadly to allow a larger pool of talent.

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