The UK government must abolish all immigration targets and ensure its Tier 2 visa system for skilled migrants is not extended to EU citizens after Brexit, the CBI employers’ organisation has said.

Josh Hardie, its deputy director-general, said on Friday that companies favoured “blunt targets” being scrapped so they could hire the staff they needed after Brexit. He added that “putting migration” on the table in trade talks would secure the UK a better deal with the EU.

The UK government has insisted the free movement of people between Britain and EU countries will end after the post-Brexit transition period, but said it could seek “reciprocal mobility agreements” during negotiations.

The government’s immigration white paper, originally scheduled to be published last year, has been postponed until October this year.

Mr Hardie said that rolling out the current Tier 2 visa system for non-EEA workers to EU citizens risked a shortfall of thousands of foreign doctors and other essential workers.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, said earlier this year that the government would review its visa system for highly skilled professionals after employers, including hospitals, raised concerns that they are unable to fill jobs.

The Tier 2 system allows employers to bring skilled workers from outside the EEA to the UK to fill professional jobs, with a cap of 20,700 a year. But demand for professionals has exceeded the monthly cap on visas since last December, as the number of people arriving in the UK from other EEA countries has fallen following the 2016 Brexit vote.

The CBI said on Friday that it had spoken to 29,000 companies across 18 industries to provide the Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the government on immigration policy, with a detailed breakdown of the kind of Brexit sought by business leaders.

Mr Hardie said: “This is no longer a theoretical debate. It’s about the future of our nation. Openness and control must not be presented as opposites.”

He warned that many sectors, including software engineering, were already facing shortages, adding: “The UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver products to stores around the country.

“This would hurt us all, from the money in our pockets to our access to public services.”

Letter in response to this article:

Freedom of movement isn’t just about economics / From Molly Scott Cato MEP, Green, South West England, European Parliament

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