Sadiq Khan is urging the government to hand City Hall some powers over visas to stop inflows of workers into the city from being cut off, he confirmed this week.
The move would – ironically – involve new restrictions being placed on freedom of movement within the UK.
Newcomers who entered the country under a London-only visa scheme would be given a specific national insurance number showing employers they were confined to the capital for purposes of employment.
They would be barred from owning property outside of the city’s limits.
They would also be subject to regular checks to ensure they were where they were meant to be and were not living and working outside of London’s boundaries. There would be nothing preventing them from enjoying a daytrip or short holiday to Margate, Brighton or indeed anywhere else in the UK, however.
The proposals could prove controversial because they would effectively involve an internal border, of sorts, being created between London and the rest of the UK.
This would allow London to pursue an immigration approach that differed drastically from the country as a whole – something Whitehall may be reluctant to sanction.
The plans were first mooted by the City of London and the London Chamber of Commerce as a means of keeping the economic blood powering the capital pumping by ensuring continuous inflows of foreign labour.
A similar system exists in Canada and Australia – but it is alien in the UK, which does not have a federal system.
EU nationals – the particular group for whom the London visa idea is intended – can currently live and work anywhere in the UK.
Responding to a question from Labour’s Andrew Dismore, Sadiq Khan said he was happy to examine proposals for a London-specific visa to ensure the city remained “competitive”.
He added he was “pressing the government for a devolution deal for skills and further education” and said Britain needed a visa system that was flexible and reduced barriers for employers trying to import foreign talent.
However, he added that if a London-only visa system was not created it would not necessarily lead to disaster.
“I don’t want to get into the business of predicting armageddon if we don’t get what we want,” he said.
Khan also said he was was urging David Davis, the secretary of state responsible for Brexit, to provide a cast iron guarantee that EU nationals already residing in London could stay.
Dismore told Khan: “David Davis has ruled out a separate deal for London and the City, and the government has also said it wants UK net migration to be in the tens of thousands, including university students who most people don’t see as migrants anyway.
“EU nationals contribute £26 billion to London’s gross value added and £7 billion in taxes, and we’ve got 770,000 EU workers in London at all levels – 15 per cent of the workforce, from the highly skilled to those who are doing the work that actually keeps the city going.”
A report from the City of London in which the idea of London-only visas was first proposed stated: “A post Brexit ‘regional visa’ system would recognise the different immigration needs in London compared to, for example, Wales.
“It is generally recognised that a stringent post Brexit restriction on EU migration could stress labour markets in certain regions, particularly London.”