A major study of the costs and benefits of EU migrants is being commissioned by the government as it prepares to design a new immigration system after Brexit.
Experts will be asked to assess the potential impact on the economy of any fall in arrivals from the bloc as Britain prepares for an end to free movement.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), commissioned by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, will be asked to report back by September next year, seven months before Britain's scheduled EU departure in March 2019.
During a visit to a Border Force patrol ship in Troon Harbour, on the west coast of Scotland, Ms Rudd said it was important to ensure the new immigration policy reflects what businesses need.
"We will do it in a way that supports businesses, that is evidence-based and that doesn’t involve a cliff-edge."
Ms Rudd added: "We hope that businesses, employers, and other charities and third-sector will all engage with this in order to get the right answers."
But the government has faced questions as to why the report on one of the central issues of Brexit was not ordered sooner.
What will the experts report on?
The MAC will asked to provide detailed analysis on the following six areas:
- The current patterns of European Economic Area (EEA) migration, including which sectors are most reliant on EU labour
- The economic and social costs and benefits of EU migration to the UK economy
- The potential impact of a reduction in EU migration and the ways in which both business and the Government could adjust to this change
- The current impact of immigration, from both EU and non-EU countries, on the competitiveness of UK industry and skills and training
- Whether there is any evidence that the availability of unskilled labour has led to low UK investment in certain sectors
- If there are advantages to focusing migrant labour on high-skilled jobs
What are the current migration levels?
Net long-term migration for EU citizens - the balance between arrivals and departures - was running at an estimated 133,000 last year, a fall of more than a quarter on 2015.
Overall international net migration, including from outside the EU, was also down at 248,000 in 2016, although the measure remains well above the Government's target of below 100,000.
Is it still the aim to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands?
Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis confirmed the government aimed to bring migration down to "sustainable levels", adding: "And that's tens of thousands".
But he cautioned: "It's not a simple, quick process ... we've got to do it in a way that is sympathetic to and supportive of our economy."
Will the committee's report be the sole guide for the government?
Mr Lewis said the study is "only part of the process" before a new immigration system is installed in the spring of 2019.
The government is separately talking to business, industry, trade unions and educational institutions in the coming months on the issue.
He said the government's "broad approach" to the post-Brexit system will be outlined in a white paper before the end of this year - before the MAC report is published.
Mr Lewis denied it complicated the process, saying the MAC advice will help decide the details for longer-term regulations.
The government's Immigration Bill will go through Parliament in 2018.
Will the new system by a block to talented foreign workers?
In a Financial Times article, the home secretary also said the post-Brexit immigration system must ensure the UK remains a "hub for international talent".
"We must keep attracting the brightest and best migrants from around the world," Ms Rudd said.
"I want to reassure all those who have outlined their views ... that the Government is listening and that we share their desire to continue to welcome those who help make the UK such a prosperous place to live."
What is the reaction to the study?
Business leaders have hailed it as "vital" amid some concern about potential future restrictions in hiring foreign workers.
However questions have been raised on why it has taken until now to commission an assessment on one of the central issues of Brexit.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey called on the government to explain why the study wasn't ordered directly after the June 23 referendum.
"The NHS, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months' time," he said.
Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of Migration Watch UK, meanwhile said the MAC was a "very welcome step" in what he recognised as a divisive issue.
"While the contribution of many EU migrants has clearly enriched the UK, recent polls have also highlighted how strongly the public feel about the need to control and reduce immigration," he said.
"The MAC's guidance will be vital in helping to ensure that this is done in a sensible and practical way."
Josh Hardie, deputy director general of business organisation the CBI, welcomed the move as a "sensible first step" to give firms guidance, adding: "Businesses urgently need to know what a new system will look like - during transition and afterwards."