A bitter row over Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy has erupted after the government finally agreed to publish its plans to end free movement.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid pledged to “get control over our borders” as he unveiled details of the long-delayed immigration bill white paper, which will be published in full on Wednesday.
But his plan is already at the centre of controversy as fears mount that a fierce clampdown on immigration after the UK’s departure from the EU could spark a “Brexodus” of much-needed foreign talent.
Reports emerged late on Tuesday that the UK will demand skilled migrants earn a considerable £30,000-a-year before they are granted a five-year visa.
Such a high minimum salary requirement risks seeing huge swathes of people denied entry to the UK and is likely to enrage businesses who rely on foreign talent to operate.
It is thought migrants deemed ‘low-skilled’ under the scheme (those who command a salary below £30,000) may be able to apply for short-term visas of up to a year.
Labour has accused ministers of “crude anti-migrant rhetoric” and it was claimed Theresa May, who has long championed drastically reducing immigration, would be left to officially launch the policy without her home secretary.
In a sign of building criticism, the government was keen to brief that, under the blueprint, there will be a new visa route for skilled workers and no cap at all on high-skilled professions such as doctors and engineers.
The full immigration white paper will be put before the House of Commons on Wednesday.
As well as measures to end free movement, it creates the legal framework for a future, single benefits system that will apply to both EU and non-EU nationals.
In a briefing note sent via press officers, Javid said: “We are delivering on the clear instruction to get control over our borders and will bring in a new system that works in the interest of the British people.
“It will be a single, skills-based immigration system built around the talent and expertise people can bring, rather than where they come from – maximising the benefits of immigration and demonstrating the UK is open for business.”
The Home Office said the UK will have full control over who comes here once Britain has broken from the bloc in March next year, with everyone needing permission before they arrive.
This will ensure net migration is reduced to “sustainable levels”, the department added.
Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, said: “The government has disgracefully labelled workers on less than £30,000 as low-skilled. Our economy and public services are kept ticking by this majority of workers.
“The government is not, as it wrongly claims, using a skills-based criteria to meet the needs of our economy and our society. It is using an income-based system which allows derivatives traders free movement but which excludes nurses, social care workers and other professions in which we have severe skills or labour shortages.
“The Tories are, once again, using crude anti-migrant rhetoric to try to cover up for their abject failure of managing the economy and the Brexit negotiations.”
The criticism comes in the wake of the Windrush scandal, which saw hundreds of UK citizens wrongly denied legal rights and threatened with deportation, culminating in the resignation of then-home secretary Amber Rudd.
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.
It recommended ministers scrap an annual cap of 20,700 on the number of visas available under the Tier 2 skilled work scheme, and open up the route to “medium-skilled” jobs.
But it said access to Britain’s jobs market should be restricted for lower-skilled migrants.
There will be focus on whether the Tory target of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands is mentioned in the blueprint.
The target, which has never been met, has been championed by the PM.
Javid has backed bringing net migration down to “sustainable levels” but has steered clear of explicitly backing the tens of thousands figure.
Estimated net long-term international migration to the UK – the difference between the numbers arriving and leaving for at least 12 months – was 273,000 in the year to June.