The Prime Minister has unveiled a new immigration policy which “ends freedom of movement once and for all.”
Under the Government proposals, high-skilled worker visas will be given priority whilst numbers of low-skilled workers from Europe will be driven down.
There are plans to implement a new single immigration system that will treat EU countries the same as non-EU countries.
Applicants will need to meet a minimum salary threshold to ensure they are not competing for jobs that could be recruited in the UK. Successful applicants for high-skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family, only if their future employers sponsored them – Sky News reports.
PM Theresa May says this forms part of the Government’s plan to attract the people the country needs to remain competitive on a global scale.
In areas that are experiencing shortages and rely heavily on EU applicants – such as social care and hospitality – May said the Government wanted British staff to fill the vacancies.
“We’ll ensure we recognise the needs of the economy,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“If you look at these low-skilled areas, we hope there will be the ability to train people here in the UK to take jobs.”
This suggests no exemptions for such sectors, although May did say the Government were piloting a seasonal scheme for agricultural workers.
“For the first time in decades, it will be this country that controls and chooses who we want to come here,” May said in a statement released overnight announcing the shake-up.
"The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, as we promised. At the same time we are training up British people for the skilled jobs of the future."
There will also be new routes for short-stay business travellers and tourists coming to the UK. Passports of short-stay tourists and business people from all ‘low-risk’ countries would be scanned at e-gates - currently only available to EU citizens. Security and criminal records checks would be carried out before visits, similar to the US system.
However, British businesses have raised concerns about the proposals. Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, also said ministers must recognise that businesses in every corner of the UK are facing severe skills gaps at every level. “Immigration policy is not just about the ‘best and brightest’, but straightforward access to the skills needed to help grow our economy,” he said.
Caron Pope, Managing Partner at immigration lawyers, Fragomen, said the system is going to exacerbate recruitment difficulties. "What we do have is a system that is going to make it harder for many sectors to fill low skilled roles without access to EU workers. Businesses also face new procedures and processes when they want to fill a highly skilled role with an EU national. To put it mildly, this is not going to go down well with employers.”
The proposals follow a report from the Migration Advisory Committee, which recommended high-skilled workers receive priority over visa applications from low-skilled workers. The plans will be outlined in detail in a white paper to be published in the autumn. The Government plans to implement them in an immigration bill to be included in next year's Queen's Speech.