Labour migration is essential to sustain both economic growth and the quality of life in the UK. Labour migration is not the enemy of our way of life as some like to characterise it; rather it is an absolute necessity.
Since the beginning of time, economic growth has been predicated on two key drivers: our ability to increase our skills and adapt to do more; and secondly an increase in the numbers of hours worked - and that means a growing working population.
In the UK at present there is not just a shortage of skills; we lack the number of people to do the work that is available. In large parts of the country, from the high street to farms, factories to pubs and clubs, we need extra people for the things we want. Economic migrants are vital, filling some of the skill shortages in the UK, both at lower and higher levels, that inhibit the growth of individual businesses and overall productivity. The UK has more than half a million unfilled vacancies in key sectors such as health care, construction, services and ICT. Against the backdrop of an ageing population putting pressure on health services and pensions, migrant workers are vital to help fill these gaps.
Migrant workers can bring valuable professional skills: across the industrialised world the fastest growing industries and areas of employment are knowledge based. And the UK has witnessed a phenomenal expansion in knowledge based service exports, from traditional strengths such as financial services to the fast expanding cultural industries.
A top priority for any government must be to ensure the UK is well placed to access increasingly global markets for knowledge workers of the future to ensure our knowledge industries can expand and retain their strong position in world markets and making the UK an attractive place for international specialists in science and technology to live and work.
It is important to note too that more than 87% of work permits issued in 2002 were for managerial, professional, associate professional and technical occupations. They are also at the heart of our health service, with overseas qualified doctors accounting for just over half of the increase in the number of doctors working in the NHS between 1993 and 2003.
From the economy to British cultural life, we are profoundly enriched by the contribution of different cultures and nationalities. Today's economic migrants are part of a long tradition that gives refreshment and enrichment to the country; as important today as they ever were.
Will Hutton - Chief Executive, The Work Foundation
Will Hutton is chief executive of The Work Foundation, an independent, not for dividend research based consultancy which is the most influential voice on work, workplace and employment issues in Britain.
Will began his career as a stockbroker and investment analyst, before working in BBC TV and radio as a producer and reporter. Prior to joining The Work Foundation, Will spent four years as editor in chief of the Observer and he continues to write a weekly column for the paper.
Will has written several best-selling economic books including The World We're In, The State We're In, The State to Come, The Stakeholding Society and On The Edge with Anthony Giddens. In addition, he won the Political Journalist of the Year award in 1993.
In 2004, Will was invited by the EU Commission to join a High-level Group on the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy and he acted as rapporteur for the report.
Other roles Will performs outside The Work Foundation include: Governor of the London School of Economics; Honorary Fellow, Mansfield College, Oxford; Visiting Professor, Manchester University Business School and Bristol University and is a member of the Scott Trust. He is also a Fellow of the Sunningdale Institute. Will's forthcoming book, The Writing on the Wall, will be published in the UK in January 2007.