OPINION: London will remain open to talent from Pakistan

LONDON (Dawn/ANN) -  I’m proud to be the first-ever Mayor of London to be making an official visit to Pakistan. 

I’m proud to be the first-ever Mayor of London to be making an official visit to Pakistan. As someone of Pakistani heritage, I feel a deep affinity with the country and I’m looking forward to going back. 

 London and Pakistan share a long and unique history that has had a profound influence on shaping our respective societies, economies and cultures. I see my visit as an exciting opportunity to build on the ties that bind our cities and countries together for the mutual benefit of everyone — Brits and Pakistanis, Londoners and Lahoris, EastEnders and Karachiites alike. 

 During my time in Pakistan, I’ll be visiting Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi to strengthen the links that exist between London and these great Pakistani cities. There is a huge amount we can learn from each other and I’m confident there’s scope for even greater collaboration in the years ahead. 

 By working together and sharing best practice, I believe London and Pakistan’s cities can speed up innovation, boost economic growth and development, and tackle some of the major challenges we both face — from air pollution and climate change, to good growth and jobs. 

 In the UK, Brexit (the decision of the UK to leave the EU) is still dominating our national debate. I’m sure there will be questions on my visit from politicians, business leaders and others about what Brexit means for the future of the British-Pakistani relationship. This is understandable given the concerns and uncertainty that have arisen in recent months. But my message to Pakistanis will be simple: despite Brexit, London will always remain open to the world and open to business and talent from Pakistan. 

 The Brexit vote shouldn’t be interpreted as us turning our backs on the rest of the world or pulling up the drawbridge. London will still be one of the most welcoming, entrepreneurial, innovative and outward-looking places anywhere on the planet. 

 There are already incredible links — built up over many decades — between the people and businesses of Pakistan and those based in the UK and London, and there is now over £2.5 billion worth of trade between our countries. But I know we can’t be complacent. That’s why my aim is to ensure that London not only remains a top destination of choice for people from Pakistan, but that it becomes an even more attractive place to come to work, study or do business. 

 Many countries and cities are increasingly competing to trade with Pakistan and to access Pakistan’s great pool of talented people. Of course, young Pakistanis don’t have to leave their country to study or to build a successful business. But I’m determined to ensure that London remains open to talented people, wherever they come from. So I’m going to be spending as much time as possible in Pakistan persuading and reassuring people looking to go to university abroad — as well as businessmen and women wishing to expand globally — that they should look no further than London. 

 London’s underlying strengths have not changed and the city I represent remains the best place in Europe to study and to build a global business. We have one of the world’s leading financial centres with a top-class legal expertise. We have the largest technology hub in Europe. And we have a fantastic pool of creative, talented people. 

 The success of London is largely because we have been able to attract such energetic and talented people, including many from Pakistan, over the years. My city is truly one of immigrants, where 40 per cent of our population was born outside the UK. This is why we value immigration, we appreciate its importance and we pride ourselves on being one of the most diverse and welcoming cities in the world. 

 It’s too early to say exactly what sort of immigration system will be introduced in the UK post-Brexit. But I’m lobbying the UK government hard to ensure that any future system is flexible and works for Pakistani nationals who want to work, do business or study in our city. 

 I want more Pakistanis to be able to follow in the footsteps of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and countless others who have had the opportunity to study at Britain’s world-renowned universities. I believe the UK government has got it badly wrong on post-study work visas so I’m talking to British ministers and others to look at how we can implement a flexible migration system that works for Pakistani students, skilled workers and entrepreneurs alike. 

 My message to the people of Pakistan is that London will always be a city that is welcoming and accessible to you and looking to work together with your great cities. We face many shared challenges, but I believe we have a real opportunity to forge an even closer relationship that will help us all to prosper in the decades to come. 

 I’m grateful for the kind and gracious support from Pakistanis in arranging my visit — and I’m looking forward to what I know will be an unforgettable and productive trip.

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