New work visa system at heart of post-Brexit immigration plans

The Government has published its long-awaited post-Brexit immigration plan.

Under the proposals, free movement of EU citizens into the UK will end and there will be a "skills-based" approach, where people's talents are more important than where they come from.

There would be a short-term visa route to allow lower-skilled migrants to come to the UK and work for up to a year. This measure, which would be in place until at least 2025, is designed to act as a "safety valve" for the economy and protect sectors reliant on lower skilled overseas labour.

But plans to place a lower-earnings limit on those who can come here for longer has caused concern among businesses. The Home Secretary said the Government would consult on granting easy access only to those earning £30,000 or more.

Sajid Javid said the White Paper had three key principles:

  • Free movement will come to an end

  • It will be a single immigration system for all nationalities

  • It will be a skills-based system

The new system will be implemented in a "phased" approach from 2021, following the post-exit transition period.

On Thursday, an Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will be presented in the House of Commons.

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.

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.

  • How would the short-term visa system work?

The short-term visa system for lower skilled workers would be open to nationals from specified countries, regardless of their skill level or whether they have a definite job offer.

Applicants would need to apply for a visa which would be limited to 12 months, at which point a "cooling-off" period will take effect, meaning they could not return under the same route for the next year.

While in the UK, they would not be entitled to access public funds or switch to other routes, bring dependant family members or seek permanent settlement.

Access to Britain's jobs market could be restricted for lower-skilled migrants. Credit: PA

The White Paper, which will apply following the post-Brexit implementation period which ends in December 2020, said employers have become reliant on lower skilled workers from the EU for certain jobs, adding that sectors like construction and social care would find it difficult to adapt immediately after free movement ends.

The paper said: "We have listened to the concerns of businesses ... and so there will be a route allowing temporary short-term workers to come for a year."

The scheme would be open to all skill levels, with no sponsorship requirement.

It would be subject to "tightly defined" conditions and only open to migrants from "specified low-risk countries".

Numbers admitted through the route may also be restricted, while the Government stressed it was a "transitory" measure and would be subject to a full review by 2025.

  • What else does the White Paper say?

There will be a new visa route for skilled workers, who will be entitled to stay for longer, bring dependants and in some cases settle permanently.

This would be open to migrants from all countries, provided they are sponsored by an employer.

As expected, the numerical cap on skilled workers - currently 20,700 a year - would be axed.

The new skilled work route would be opened up to workers with "intermediate" level skills. Among the occupations that would become eligible are driving instructors, plumbers and restaurant managers.

Credit: PA

In an effort to speed up the recruitment process, employers of skilled migrants would no longer be required to carry out a "resident labour market test".

In other features of the system:

  • Anyone who wants to come to the UK would need some form of permission

  • EU visitors will not require a visa in advance of travel but an Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme would be introduced

  • There would continue to be no limit on the number of international students who could come to study in the UK

  • Existing rules on bringing family members to the country, including minimum income requirements, would be extended to settled EU citizens

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.

While EU net migration has fallen, sparking claims of a "Brexodus", the latest figures showed non-EU net migration was at the highest level since 2004.