Migrants into the UK identified as "low-skilled" – including people from Europe – will receive no preferential treatment when free movement from the EU ends, the British government says.
People looking to work in the UK will also need a job offer with a minimum designated salary, and to be able to speak good English.
The new UK policy statement on immigration promises to reduce overall numbers, and introduce a “points-based system” to end “a reliance on cheap labour from Europe”.
“For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people,” asserts the paper.
“EU citizens and non-EU citizens will be treated equally” from January 1, 2021 after the post-Brexit transition period expires, the document says."We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route."
The measures have been criticised by some business groups, which fear they will exacerbate labour shortages. A recent study found that under the proposed changes, 70 percent of the current EU workforce in the UK would be barred from entering in future.
The United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31 this year, but most existing arrangements remain in place during this phase. These include free movement between the EU and the UK – a right which has not been unlimited, but subject to restrictions.
- "Some of the (low-paid) jobs... are short-term jobs, and what British people want are long-term jobs with prospects": Professor Catherine Barnard of the UK in a Changing Europe. Watch the interview on Euronews Tonight in the video player above.
Speak English to 'required level'
The new measures to attract skilled workers mean potential migrants into the UK will need to demonstrate that they speak English to a “required level”.
They will also need a job offer “from an approved sponsor… at the required skill level”, and to earn more than a minimum salary threshold. The government has agreed to reduce this to £25,600 (€30,843).
In occupations identified as having staff shortages, lower minimum earnings of £20,480 (€24,682) are accepted. The same applies to applicants with a suitable PhD.
Under the system, foreign workers will need 70 points to be eligible to apply to enter the UK. Good English brings 10 points, an approved job offer 20 points, with another 20 points awarded for jobs at an “appropriate skill level”.
Further points are awarded according to salary, in sectors with shortages, and for educational qualifications.
There will be no special arrangements for low-skilled workers – although the government promises to expand a pilot scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture, and highlights "youth mobility arrangements" with eight countries that it says bring around 20,000 young people to the UK each year.
Students are also covered by the points-based system: they will need an offer of a place, to speak English, and be able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.
Britain's Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel said it was the first time in decades the UK could determine its own immigration policy. The new "points-based immigration system" would assess prospective immigrants on a range of skills, qualifications, salaries or professions, she added.
"Those with the right skills, the right qualifications, can come to the United Kingdom to either come to... universities, or come to the UK to work for businesses and work and contribute to our country," she said in a promotional video.
The government says that the British economy needs to concentrate on investment in technology and automation, and that “employers will need to adjust”. It points out that EU citizens eligible to stay and work in the UK under its "settled status" scheme "will provide employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands".
Patel came under fire on Wednesday for suggesting that employers could pick from a pool of eight million Britons currently not in work, as the majority of these are either retired or ill, students, carers or have other reasons for being economically inactive.
But the plans have been criticised by some business organisations, expressing fears that the UK economy will not be able to recruit the workers it needs.
The Confederation for British Industry (CBI), representing employers, welcomed some of the government’s new system – highlighting the salary threshold and post-study visas. But it added that some would worry about how they could recruit, especially in the care, construction, hospitality, and food and drink sectors.
The UK Homecare Association described the lack of provisions for low-paid immigrant workers in the proposals as "irresponsible".
"Cutting off the supply of prospective care workers under a new migration system will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care," it said.
The policy paper follows a report published in January by the UK’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). It accepts some of MAC’s recommendations, for example on salary thresholds.
But MAC rejected adopting in full an Australian-style points-based system, identifying “perceived problems” with it.
Such an arrangement has been described as inappropriate for the UK. Researchers say the Australian system – much cited by its protagonists in the UK – has not cut immigration numbers there. Meanwhile, skilled workers entering Australia under the points-based criteria are dwarfed by the number of temporary visas granted to people in other categories.
In the UK’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, the official Vote Leave campaign promised a points-based system. Immigration, and especially the free movement of workers from the EU, were major issues in the campaign.
Many people who voted for the UK to leave the EU believed that immigration had driven down wages and driven up joblessness among British-born workers. A study by the Migration Observatory at Oxford University suggests at best only marginal evidence to support such arguments.