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'Talents and skills' will be the way into post-Brexit U.K., May says

Image: Prime Minister Theresa May delivers speech at CBI Conference
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London on Monday. Copyright Andy Rain
Copyright Andy Rain
By Saphora Smith with NBC News World News
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The British PM said "engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi" would no longer find themselves in line behind people from E.U. countries.


LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that the U.K.'s post-Brexit immigration policy will favor skilled workers and stop E.U. nationals from getting preferential treatment.

The embattled politician said "engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi" would no longer find themselves in line behind people from the other 27 European Union countries.

At the moment, people from the European Economic Area — which includes the E.U. countries and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — plus Switzerland can travel and work without visas.

Border control gates at Heathrow Airport in London.
Border control gates at Heathrow Airport in London.Neil Hall

May said this is would change following a proposed transition period due to end on December 31, 2020.

"Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer," she told members of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), an organization which speaks for thousands of U.K. businesses. "Free movement will end once and for all."

While many business leaders have backed the draft Brexit deal which the U.K. and the European Union announced last week, some fear that fewer low-skilled migrants may hurt British businesses, many of which rely on European workers.

One audience member told May that since the Brexit vote in 2016 it had become difficult to hire low-skilled workers for his business in east London.

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Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI's director general, raised questions about the prime minister's immigration plan Monday. "What has been proposed so far won't work for our economy," she said.

May has had a rocky few days since unveiling her contentious draft E.U. divorce deal on Wednesday last week, with several ministers — including her Brexit minister — resigning.

A group of lawmakers from her own Conservative party are seeking to oust her, but have yet to gather enough support to force a no-confidence vote.

May has vowed to fight on. The E.U. is due to hold a summit to discuss the proposed deal on Sunday.

Under the draft agreement, any European citizen living in the U.K. before the end of the transition period would have the right to reside in the country beyond 2020.

They would also have the right to permanent residency if they live in the country continuously for five years.

The same rules would apply for U.K. residents living in European nations.

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