Tough new immigration rules and border controls to end the UK’s open door to unskilled EU migrants were unveiled by the Home Secretary. Priti Patel announced that foreign nationals will need a job offer from an approved employer, appropriate skills for the post and be able to speak English to be allowed to come to the UK to work from next year.
Pledging to cut annual net migration, she urged employers to prepare for a “significant change” with rules designed to shift the economy away from relying on cheap labour from Europe towards a “high-wage, high skill, high productivity” future. Miss Patel said: “Today is a historic moment for the whole country. We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down. We will attract the brightest and the best from around the globe, boosting the economy and our communities, and unleash this country’s full potential.”
A policy document published by the Home Office set out details of the new points-based new immigration rules or system due to come into force from January 1 when the UK’s transition out of EU rules and regulations ends.
“We will reduce overall levels of migration,” the document pledged.
Under the new system, foreign nationals applying to come to the UK for work purposes will have to meet a strict set of criteria.
“We will deliver a system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK and prioritises the skills a person has to offer not where they came from,” the document adds.
The system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and visas will only be awarded to those who gain enough points.
Minimum requirements will include having a job offer from an approved sponsor that suits their skill level and being able to speak English.
Applicants meeting those criteria will be awarded 50 of the 70 points needed to successfully apply for an online “e-visa” to come to the UK under the new system.
But to get over the minimum points threshold they will have to meet other criteria based on salary, seeking to work in a sector with a recognised labour shortage or a having a PhD.
A minimum general salary threshold of £25,600 will set, although different levels could be set in some specific sectors of the economy.
The proposals, to be put to Parliament in a new Immigration Bill later this year, are designed to close the general route into the country for unskilled or temporary workers.
“We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust,” said the document.
Officials estimate that around 70 percent of EU migrants allowed into the UK under current rules would be blocked under the new rules, although 3.2million EU citizens already living the UK will be allowed to remain under a settlement scheme.
Some key public services with labour shortages, particularly the NHS and social care system, will be exempt from the block on unskilled migrants however.
A scheme for allowing unskilled seasonal workers from abroad to work in agriculture will be expanded to around 10,000 places a year under the move.
Britain’s immigration system has been “distorted by European free movement rights” for too long and has been “failing to meet the needs of the British people,” the document said.
“From January 1 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally.
”We will reduce overall levels of migration and give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled workers.”
In a warning to employers to prepare for the change, the document added: “We recognise that these proposals represent a significant change for employers in the UK and we will deliver a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months.”
Officials say the proposal shows the Government have listened to the messages from the electorate at the 2016 EU referendum and 2019 general election demanding an end to the country’s reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour from abroad.
The plans seek to reduce the overall level of annual net migration from the 226,000 recorded last year.
A new “global talent scheme” to attract high-skilled newcomers including scientists, engineers and academics will also be launched, the policy paper said.
Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “British science is global. The new post-study work and Global Talent visas will help us to attract the world’s brightest students and researchers, wherever they come from.
“From the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine to clean energy, British science’s international collaborations drive innovation and excellence.”
The proposals will also overhaul the skills threshold for applicants to allow migrants qualified up the equivalent of A-levels rather than degrees, which is currently the minimum for skilled migrants from outside the EU.
Student visa routes will also be points-based and be opened up to EU citizens, ensuring talent from around the globe has access to the UK’s world-class universities.
Those wishing to study in the UK will need to demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, that they can support themselves financially and that they speak English.
EU citizens and other non-visa nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK when visiting for up to six months under the shake up.
But the use of national identity cards will be phased out for travel to the UK is to be phased out.
On a visit to Imperial College in London, Miss Patel said the new system would ensure that the new immigration rules or policy is back under the control of the Government for the “first time in decades”.
She said: “On January 1 2021, we’ll be ending the free movement of labour from the EU, but excitingly this will be our new system – an immigration system that enables the Government to take back control of our own immigration policy for the first time in decades.
“It will mean that we will have a global immigration system that doesn’t discriminate between EU and non-EU, and it’ll basically mean that the brightest and the best will be able to come to the United Kingdom to bring their real talents which we’ll recognise through a points-based system.”
She added: “It is right that people should speak English before they come to our country, that they should have a sponsored route, whether it’s through employment or a sponsored route through an academic institution.”
Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “This isn’t an ‘Australian points-based system’, which is a meaningless Government soundbite.
“It’s a salary threshold system, which will need to have so many exemptions, for the NHS, for social care and many parts of the private sector, that it will be meaningless.
“Just as important is what rights will be attached to these visas. If families are split up because spouses and children are denied entry, this will be terrible for them and will deter many of the workers we need.
If they are all short-term visas only the most desperate workers will come, and will have the effect of creating a two-tier workforce.
“Ultimately, it will also be very difficult to attract the workers we need at all skill levels while the Tories’ hostile environment is in place. It needs to go.
“Labour will be pressing hard on all these points as the legislation proceeds.”
Alp Mehmet, chairman of the pressure group Migration Watch UK, criticised the proposals for failing to include an overall limit on migration.
He said: “These proposals suggest that the Government is not serious about taking control of immigration.
“Not only will millions of UK workers see their jobs opened up to new or greater competition from overseas workers in much poorer countries but employers will no longer have to look to find anyone at home before searching abroad.
“The main safeguard of a suitable pay threshold will be significantly lowered, with an added loophole that so-called ‘new entrants’ – who might be workers with a decade of experience – could be paid little more than the UK minimum wage.
“With no cap on numbers coming via the main route from the outset, this is a massive risk that will alarm the 30 million people who were expecting this government finally to deliver on their long-standing promises to reduce immigration and show belief in young Brits, rather than giving in to the demands of bosses.”
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We see the benefits of a points-based model, so long as it’s one that’s easy to use and affordable for small businesses – almost all of which have no experience of using our current immigration system.
“Against a backdrop of stifling skills shortages, sluggish economic growth and an ageing population, it’s critical that we get this right, particularly as the timeframes are so short.”
What are the new immigration rules?
Britain’s new immigration rules will mean that foreign nationals applying to work in the UK will be rated for their eligibility for a visa under a points scheme.
For their application to be successful, they must score a minimum of 70 points.
Having a job offer from an approved sponsor that is appropriate to their skill level and being able to speak English at a level specified by the Home Office are mandatory requirements that score a total of 50 points.
If the job is in an occupation with a labour shortage such as engineering or information technology the applicant can score a further 20 points.
Possessing a university doctorate gives 10 points with the figure rising to 20 points if the qualification is in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
An annual salary between £23,040 awards 10 points, rising to 20 points over £25,600.
For example, a builder’s labourer unable to speak English with an £18,000-a-year job offer will score just 20 points and not be allowed to come to the UK to work.
A skilled plumber with good English and a job offer with a £24,000 annual salary would score 20 and would also be blocked.
A Primary school teacher with £26,000-a-year job offer and good English would score 70 points and would secure a visa to work in the UK.
A university lecturer with a maths PhD with an offer of a £40,000-a-year post would score 90 points and would also secure a visa.