A BAD THOUGHT: What happens to the City if immigration restrictions are imposed on Europeans?

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We’re a little late on this, but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless: Theresa May gave an interview to the Telegraph on Friday, in which she suggested that, ‘work is ongoing to restrict European immigration in the event of a financial collapse.’

This has caused some considerable excitement at the Daily Mail, which observes that: ‘Faced with economic collapse in their home countries, would not tens of thousands of Greeks, Spainards [sic] or Italians look to the UK as a haven? (In this scenario, Germany and France would have themselves been so hobbled by the Euro meltdown that they would not present a viable alternative.)’

Putting aside the question as to whether thousands of Milanese would really want to live in London, it's worth noting that by the goverment's own standards, the UK does seem to have an immigration issue.  Net migration to the UK was 252,000 in the 12 months to September 2011, compared to a target of 100,000. Visa restrictions were tightened substantially in April, causing big problems for non-EU nationals working in financial services in London – especially if they lose their jobs. 

So what would happen if EU nationals also became subject to visa restrictions?

Firstly, it would be a headache for banks’ recruiters: figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest fewer than 40% of front office bankers are British; many are from the EU.  Some, like Achilles Macris, are from Greece. Achilles would need a visa.

Secondly, it would be a headache for EU nationals who want to work in the City, who’d have to go through the UK’s convoluted immigration process.  Frankly, they may not bother.

Thirdly, it would be a good thing for UK nationals who want to work in banking.  They’d get jobs more easily, despite being less well educated. 

Fourthly, given that there aren’t enough high calibre UK nationals to staff banks in the City, London would be further weakened as a financial centre.

For the moment, banks’ recruiters aren’t too bothered by Theresa May’s iterations.  “I haven’t really thought about it,” says one senior recruiter. “This would be down to our immigration team,” says another.

Jonathan Goldsworthy, senior immigration solicitor at Bird and Bird LLP says that it is unlikely to be straightforward for the UK to impose controls on immigration from the EU: "European nationals have a right to work in the UK in accordance with their European Treaty rights. If the government wished to alter that, it would need to demonstrate exceptional circumstances under EU law. "

Nick Clegg has, in any case, attempted to dilute Theresa May’s interview “I really do think some of the breathless talk in the media about do we pull up the drawbridge to stop hoards of people migrating across Europe is both far-fetched, somewhat apocalyptic in tone and deeply unhelpful,” he said, denying that there are any plans to restrict Greek migration to the UK.

Nevertheless, Greeks seeking work in the City may wish to hedge their bets: apply sooner, not later.