A post-Brexit border lockdown would be bad for startups

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Marta Krupinska
GM & Co-Founder
Azimo
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There is no question that UK immigration has increased rapidly during the last 20 years. And a large portion of those people came from the EU.

The number of EU migrants living in Britain trippled between 1995 and 2015, rising from 0.9 million to 3.3 million. That's more than 5% of the UK population.

But, there’s also no question that this influx of immigrants has helped to fuel the British economy.

It’s been estimated recently that if every migrant withdrew their labour for one day, it would cost the UK £328m - 4% of our GDP. And it's not just employees: migrant-founded companies are responsible for creating 14% of all jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Migration has weaved its way into British society. Immigrants are serving your drinks, checking your blood pressure, educating your kids and caring for your great aunt as well as running a tech startup in the office next door.

Without migration, the UK wouldn’t be the thriving and viable business hub that it is now.

But now, in light of the recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics, things are changing. Net migration to the UK now stands at 273,000 for the year to September, showing a significant drop of almost 50,000 from the previous year.

These latest results don't come as any surprise. We heard a lot of anti-migrant rhetoric around the time of Brexit and this decrease in migration is the beginning of that impact.

In my opinion, healthy migration is the key to innovation in vital industries, like the technology sector – in fact, I myself am a Polish migrant and co-founder of one of the top Fintech startups.

Anecdotally, I've had conversations with other Polish entrepreneurs and there is a very definite hesitation to move their business to the UK post-referendum. We should be focusing on welcoming and nurturing talent – it’s better for business and, ultimately, better for the country as a whole.

Combine the decrease in migration with the tech skills gap we already have here in the UK, and it’s clear to see that the UK is facing a serious talent shortage and this could be extremely detrimental to the health of the British economy.

I would be very concerned for small businesses and startups who rely on the best digital talent and can’t afford the time and cost of visa related bureaucracy.

Moreover, it’s been estimated that on average EU migrants contribute £2bn a year to Britain and our report Better Than That uncovered that just 2% of the migrants we surveyed claim benefits. So migrants help strengthen the British economy, rather than draining its finances as it’s so commonly thought. At Azimo, we believe that diversity is better for business which is why 77% of our workforce based in London are non-British nationalities.

Without migration, the UK wouldn’t be the thriving and viable business hub that it is now. The Brexit vote has already had a detrimental impact on how migrants feel in the UK and are affecting others’ willingness to move here. I’ve chosen London to be my home and the home of my startup and I really hope that we can preserve its position as a Fintech capital of Europe, but access to foreign talent and the single market will play key roles here.

We strongly hope that any new immigration regulation will not make it much more difficult to employ migrant workers. We may land a deal that will still allow free movement of people (which we have always been in favour of at Azimo, as we believe the world needs fewer borders, not more), but it may as well require that EU nationals have sponsor visas in the same way it is now done for non-EU nationals.

Should the latter happen, we’ll deal with it. We’re in a unique position as a well-funded startup to be able to respond to changing market conditions quickly and easily. Success ultimately boils down to being able to attract the most talented people, no matter where they’re from. However, I would be very concerned for small businesses and startups who rely on the best digital talent and can’t afford the time and cost of visa related bureaucracy.

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