Want to spend a year or two working in London? Dream on. It’s about to get a lot tougher.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to double the amount companies must pay if they hire workers from America and other countries outside the European Union.
The pledge is part of a program unveiled by her Conservative Party on Thursday. The party has a huge opinion poll lead over the opposition Labour Party and is widely expected to win the June 8 election by a big margin.
If May wins, she plans to increase the annual charge to £2,000 ($2,600) per worker from £1,000 at present.
By deterring recruitment from non-EU countries, May hopes to cut net migration — the number of immigrants to the U.K. less the number of people who leave — to below 100,000. That figure stood at 273,000 last year.
Employers and business lobby groups are worried.
“Such a change would make it harder for companies to attract the global talent they need,” said Jeffries Briginshaw, CEO of British American Business.
U.K. unemployment is the lowest it has been in more than 40 years and many sectors, including hospitality, healthcare, tech and construction, are struggling to find staff. They say they need to bring in workers from abroad.
The British Chamber of Commerce said the Conservative Party’s approach to immigration would “worry companies of every size, sector, region and nation.”
The higher charges would be particularly troubling for Britain’s public healthcare service, the NHS.
It struggles to find enough staff and employs 74,000 non-EU migrants, according to data from the U.K. parliament.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors and medical students, said the proposal would cost £7 million a year — money it says the NHS desperately needs to spend elsewhere.
“It is completely unacceptable for the Conservatives to pledge what is in effect a penalty… for trying to fill staff shortages and maintain safe patient care,” the BMA said in a statement.
The tech industry is also ringing the alarm bell.
“With domestic shortages in critical tech roles ever more pronounced, this move is another barrier for scaling companies accessing the talent they need to grow,” said Antony Walker, the deputy CEO of techUK.
May’s government first started charging companies that hire non-EU migrants last month.
It says businesses that bring in foreign workers must contribute to the training of British workers, so they too can access skilled jobs.
“Skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce,” the Conservative Party said in its manifesto, published on Thursday.
It plans to invest the extra revenue from the higher charge into skills training for workers in the U.K.