The government must provide clarity over its future immigration policy, according to an influential business lobby group, after reports it may delay publication of a key policy paper on the issue.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said firms will be "frustrated" if the government does not give an indication of what the future policy on migration will be, adding that it will deter investment.
Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Businesses will be hugely frustrated by rumours that the government won’t reveal their plans on staff mobility until the last minute. From tech start-ups to care homes, not knowing what staff you will be able to access will deter investment.
“Firms need time to plan for change and that is why many will be deeply disappointed by any delays to the White Paper."
The lobby group's criticism of the government comes after the Financial Times reported ministers will not publish a white paper on immigration until the autumn, just a few months before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
The paper was initially scheduled to be published last summer, but reportedly has been held up over a dispute over the inclusion of students in net migration figures. The Prime Minister has previously argued students should remain in the figures, while current home secretary Amber Rudd believes they should not be included.
Immigration has long been one of the most contentious issues for the Conservative party and Prime Minister Theresa May. When May was home secretary, with direct responsibility for immigration policy, former Prime Minister David Cameron promised to cut net annual immigration to below 100,000 migrants.
Controlling immigration was a prominent theme in the EU referendum, but business groups in the City and beyond are aghast at the prospect of making it more difficult to hire European workers after Brexit at a time when complaints of skills shortages have reached high levels.
Hardie today urged the government to assure EU workers they will be eligible to work in the UK "for the transition period at least".
He said: “The government should commit now that people’s rights to work won’t change over the first two years from our date of departure from the EU.”