Author: VIDYA RAM
The British government unveiled its plans for its post-Brexit immigration regime, which it insists would create a level-playing field for EU workers and non-EU workers based on skills levels and mean that workers from Europe would not have priority over those from Asia.
“It shouldn’t matter if they are from India or if they are from France,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on Wednesday as he unveiled plans that he described as the biggest shake up of UK immigration policy for four decades. “We can end freedom of movement…we will say who can and cannot come into this country,” he added, insisting that Britain would remain an “open and welcoming nation.”
Among the changes proposed are the removal of the current annual cap on the number of Tier 2 visas for skilled workers, as well as the requirement that employers demonstrate that they attempted to fill the role domestically before bringing in a person from abroad (the resident labour market test).
The government will also allow international students six months after they graduate to find permanent skilled work and work temporarily during that period, while PHD graduates will have a whole year to do so. There will be no post-study visa, however, as many student and university bodies have been lobbying for.
The overall plan has received a cautious welcome from business who have warned that the proposed system has failed to meet their needs, while campaigners for the rights of migrants warned it was a continuation of the government’s policies devoid of “evidence, compassion or decency” that had culminated in the Windrush Scandal earlier this year (during which Commonwealth migrants were wrongly treated as illegally here).
“Sajid Javid wants to massively expand the number of people subject to his hostile environment without even addressing the significant injustices and inefficiencies of the existing system,” warned Satbir Singh of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrations. The business organisation the CBI concluded that the white paper didn’t meet the country’s needs. “Immigration is a concern up there with no deal for businesses of every size, sector and region. It feels like the Government is listening — but not hearing — what we really need for the economy in the UK.”
While the white paper makes no mention of the Conservative’s election manifesto target of reducing immigration to the 10s of thousands from 100s of thousands (it simply refers to “sustainable levels” of immigration), business concerns revolve largely around its focus on a salary threshold to determine who would or wouldn’t be able to work in the country. The government’s Migration Advisory Committee had suggested a £30,000 threshold, but in the face of opposition from business the government has said it would consult on this.
However, businesses fear the continued focus on the need for a salary threshold rather than catering to the needs of the economy signals wrong prioritisation and would leave Britain with key skills shortages just at the time business needs to be well positioned should the worst happen and Britain leave the EU without a deal. In a concession from the government some workers across skills levels will be able to come to the UK for up to a year to meet shortages in lower skilled roles when they arise: this will only be available to those from specified “low risk countries.”