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Labour Is Taking a Wrong Turn on Immigration

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Britain's politicians should be standing up for the benefits immigrants bring, not demonising them.

As a keen follower of UK politics, and an aspiring entrepreneur, I was dismayed to hear Ed Miliband's speech apologising for immigration, but I can't say I was surprised. There seem to be a consensus on only one thing in politics these days; Labour and the Conservatives compete to sound "tough" on immigration, with the Tories still wedded to a farcical national cap.

I've got personal experience of just how farcical that attempt to enforce a cap is; as a businessman, I had the unpleasant experience this week of having to turn down the best qualified applicant for a job at my firm because of his immigration status.

This was mostly down to the Tories' badly-thought out tightening of visas for students who studied in the UK. Intended to crack down on visas issued by bogus academic institutions, this attempt to act tough has sent thousands of the best-qualified, hardworking migrants to our competitor nations. It feels anti-business to me; I'm sure in four or five years' time you'll read about a Cambridge or Oxford graduate who was pushed out by it, went instead to Silicon Valley, and started the next online giant worth billions.

The truth is, in a global economy, wealth depends less on the goods you can package up and ship, and more on the services you can sell. And Britain is a leader in providing services to foreigners, not just banking and finance, but also education, tourism, health care and media, as well as high-spec manufacturing and luxury goods - all of which growing nations - like the Chinese and Indians - want.

All these industries will attract foreign workers - usually the best-skilled - to fill the extra jobs. Young academics, doctors, designers and other graduates coming to Britain from the depressed parts of southern Europe in search of work, pushing up productivity and providing the tax revenues the Government will need to deal with the UK's growing numbers of elderly people. Far from undermining the welfare state, these migrants will make it sustainable, helping us to dodge the oncoming demographic crash that threatens the UK's ability to pay for pensions and the NHS.

Twenty-two of Britain's 114 Nobel laureates were born abroad; Tesco, Marks & Spencer, EasyJet and many other successful companies were founded by immigrants and their children; and new arrivals of all cultural backgrounds are twice as likely to start a business as people born in Britain.

I'm an immigrant of sorts (coming from a mixed background, I moved to London when I was 12 years old and subsequently got my British passport), and the online invoice finance business I helped to co-found (MarketInvoice) employs 14 people, and has already provided £20 million of funding to over 100 British businesses.

We already employ Irish, Polish, Russian, Bulgarian, Australian, Malaysian staff members alongside British nationals, and every week receive applications from world class graduates looking for jobs in the start-up world clustered around "Silicon Roundabout" (aka Old Street Roundabout). But visa constraints sometimes make the extra burden for foreign nationals too onerous for such a small company as ours.

The British public appears overwhelmingly hostile to Immigration - it regularly comes top when pollsters ask what is wrong with Britain - some will feel that yet more immigrants, however wealthy or successful or entrepreneurial they are, are not the solution.

British politicians should be willing to stand up & be counted, and say the unsayable - immigrants are a vital part of keeping Britain strong.