Unlimited numbers of low-skilled temporary workers from the EU will be able to apply to come to Britain without a job offer until 2025 to help businesses get used to Brexit, government immigration plans reveal.
Migrants from “low-risk” countries, a list expected to include EU nations, will be able to apply for a 12-month visa regardless of their skills or whether they have lined up work and their numbers will not be capped
But they will not be allowed to access benefits, bring family, or stay beyond a year without first leaving the country for a 12-month “cooling off period” before they can apply for a new visa. This marks a change from the current system for EU migrants.
The Home Office expects similar numbers of temporary workers to come from the EU until the system is reviewed in 2025 – four years after the end of the post-Brexit transition period – to establish whether firms still need the scheme or whether they can fill the jobs with British workers.
The immigration white paper spells out the government’s commitment to ending free movement of EU citizens and replacing it with a skills-based migration system in a “phased” approach after the post-Brexit transition period ends in 2021.
Theresa May hopes the paper on how the UK will “take back control” on immigration can win support for her beleaguered Brexit plan.
But the revelations on low-skilled labour risk criticism from Brexiteers, who are already highly resistant to the withdrawal deal the prime minister has negotiated with the EU.
There was also little in the white paper on what would happen to immigration rules in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid earlier also refused to endorse the government’s pledge to reduce annual net immigration to below 100,000, while a plan to introduce a minimum £30,000 salary threshold for skilled workers who want to come to the UK was fudged after a cabinet row, with the final limit set to be decided after a year-long consultation.
There is no specific target. It will be a system that will bring net migration down to more sustainable levels.Home Secretary Sajid Javid
The white paper was initially due to be published more than a year ago, but it was held back while the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) carried out a detailed analysis.
The MAC’s report, published in September, concluded that the new system should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to come to the country.
Earlier, Javid refused repeatedly to repeat the “tens of thousands” net migration target first set by ex-PM David Cameron.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is no specific target. It will be a system that will bring net migration down to more sustainable levels.”
May repeatedly insisted on Wednesday the government was committed to cutting the net immigration below 100,000.
But the white paper refers to cutting immigration to “sustainable levels as set out in the Conservative Party manifesto, rather than the hundreds of thousands”, suggesting a potentially higher target.
The PM told reporters on a visit to Heathrow Airport: “The immigration white paper makes clear that the government – and we’re all committed to what we said in the Conservative party manifesto, which was that we were going to bring net migration down to sustainable levels – and that means not the hundreds of thousands that we’ve seen in recent decades, and that means the tens of thousands.”
When asked why the white paper didn’t repeat the manifesto pledge, a Number 10 source said: “It refers to [it].
“I think it’s abundantly clear and that is all in pure English.”
Commons home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper said: “We have repeatedly recommended that the government end the net migration target, but it now isn’t clear at all what the status of that target is, given the different statements ministers have made.”
In the Commons, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott also wanted to know if Javid would be sticking to the net migration pledge, a target she said has “never been met, will never be met and is a pretext for anti-immigrant measures”.
The white paper confirms that the 20,700 annual cap on the number of skilled workers from all countries will be scrapped in order to attract “the brightest and the best” to Britain.
But demands for skilled workers to have an offer for a job with a salary of more than £30,000 to have drawn criticism.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers representing NHS trusts, said the organisation was “deeply concerned” about the impact on the health services.
“High skills does not equal high pay,” she told Today.
“You have got starting salaries for nurses at £23,000 – also for paramedics, midwives. Junior doctors’ starting salaries at £27,000, healthcare assistants at £17,000, all coming in way below that £30,000 cap.
“It is not just health workers, it is social care as well. We have to remember where the skills lay. They lay in those staff under £30,000.”
The white paper will also make it easier for graduates to stay in the UK, by offering six months post study leave to allow those with MA-level or BA-level degrees find permanent skilled work.
Visitors from the EU will not require a visa in advance of travel while others will be able to apply for a new electronic travel authorisation (ETA) scheme, similar to the United States’ ESTA, which is currently in development.
On refugees, Britain will seek an agreement with the EU to continue with the Dublin regulation, which requires asylum seekers to apply for safe haven in the first safe country they reach, while allowing families to be reunited so their claims can be considered together.
The UK will also seek a reciprocal agreement with Brussels under which lone asylum-seeking children in the EU can join close families members in the UK.
On Thursday, an Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will be presented in the House of Commons.