by LAUREN CODLING
THE prime minister and the home secretary have unveiled post-Brexit immigration proposals on Tuesday (2) as the Conservative government seeks to commit to lower and “sustainable” levels of migration after Britain leaves the EU next year.
Workers from the EU will need visas to enter Britain, which will be issued based on skills, rather than migrants’ nationality.
Prime minister Theresa May also pledged her commitment to keep the net migration figures below 100,000, a target which she set during her term as home secretary but has not been met.
Home secretary Sajid Javid announced a salary threshold, but did not mention what the limit would be, saying it would be set out in a white paper in the autumn.
He also confirmed a new “British values test” to replace the existing quiz for new citizens and promised a tougher examination of English for migrants seeking to settle in the UK.
The proposals follow several key recommendations from a report released last month by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which were announced at the
party conference in Birmingham earlier this week.
May said free movement of people within the EU would conclude with Brexit and “for the first time in decades, it will be this country that controls and chooses who we want to come here”.
“It will be a skills-based system where it is workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“For too long, people have felt they have been ignored on immigration.
“The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels.”
May said those wanting to live and work in Britain for the long-term would need to earn a minimum salary and only be able to bring their family if sponsored by future employers.
However, she conceded that immigration policy could be affected by Britain’s future trade deals.
Among countries which could implement new trade negotiations with the UK after Brexit is India.
Its high commissioner to Britain, YK Sinha, told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday that India would want more visas as part of a trade deal. The envoy said India would be willing for its highly-skilled professionals to work in the UK, but he hoped they would eventually return to the subcontinent.
“What I am asking for is demand and supply,” the high commissioner said. “You need doctors or IT specialists and we will give them. If the UK wants highly-skilled people, we have them; but we want them to come (to the UK) temporarily because we want those [skill sets] to come back.”
Several Asian businessmen and campaigners have reacted to the latest proposals with divided opinion.
Dr Rami Ranger CBE, the founder of Sun Mark, told Eastern Eye he welcomed the government’s proposals to change immigration rules post-Brexit.
He stated no one should have an automatic right to live and work in the UK, including citizens of the European Union.
“People should only be allowed to come to Britain if the country needs their skills and expertise,” he said. “Allowing (only) low-skilled migrant workers will not only create unemployment in the country, but will also encourage exploitation of workers on low wages.”
The businessman added he did not believe in a quota system for migrants, and people should be allowed in if they needed to fulfil a skills gap. Dr Ranger also warned Britain would face labour shortages until new immigration rules were defined.
Addressing the party conference on Tuesday, Javid asserted immigration has been good for Britain, but after Brexit the UK needs to “stay strong and prosperous”.
The home secretary said the government wished to welcome migrants into the country and added the EU referendum of 2016 opened an opportunity to reshape the immigration system for the future.
“[We will have] a skills-based, single system that is opened up to talent from across the world, a system that doesn’t discriminate between any one region or country, a system based on merit that judges people not by where they are from, but on what they can do,” Javid said.
“What people want – and they will get – is control of our own system with a lower and sustainable level of net migration.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described the Tory immigration plans as “meaningless” unless the targets were lifted.
The cap serves only one purpose, she stressed, to “demonise and vilify” people who choose to come and work in the UK.
On Javid’s introduction of a new so called “British values test”, Abbott said it remained unclear if the exam was an improvement on the former home secretary May’s test implemented in 2015.
“The idea that a government whose hostile environment policy and handling of the Windrush scandal has brought shame to the country should be defining British values is deeply worrying,” Abbott said.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), cautioned that the dismissal of low-skilled workers could impact businesses and living standards.
She added restricting access to the workers that the UK needs is “self-defeating”. Fairbairn also referred to the lack of change regarding the net migration figures (below 100,000) as “disappointing”.
“This target means that everyday workers with skills the UK needs are turned away and jobs left unfilled,” she said. “Employers all over the UK will continue to urge its abolition to show the world Britain means business.”
More developments, including favouring highly-skilled migrants above low-skilled ones and applicants hoping to immigrate for work being required to meet a minimum salary threshold to ensure they are not competing for jobs that could be recruited in the UK, were also revealed this week.
Restricting the entrance of foreign low-skilled workers has been regarded as problematic by some, however. Last week, chancellor Philip Hammond argued a plan to reduce the number of low skilled migrants could lead to labour shortages in parts of the economy.
Koolesh Shah, a hotelier and founder of the London Town Group, shared similar sentiments.
Pointing out 15 per cent of the UK hospitality sector are from the EU, the recent announcement could “pose a potential serious problem for the industry as a whole”.
“We have seen a decline in applications from people overseas applying for jobs in London Town Hotels,” Shah told Eastern Eye. “We dedicate a lot of time and effort into resourcing our teams, it is a key part of our business.”
Remarking on the difficulties retaining talent in the hospitality industry, Shah raised concerns for the future of the sector.
It is only going to get worse if nothing is done to reverse this ever-growing decline, he said, and added without good talent any hospitality business will struggle.
Aditi Bhardwaj is one of the protest organisers for Highly Skilled Migrants.
The campaigner group represents more than 600 professionals (including doctors and teachers) and their families throughout Britain.
The group protested against the Home Office’s policies on immigration in the past, including on alleged “delays and unjustified refusals” related to their applications for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in Britain.
On the latest immigration proposals, Bhardwaj welcomed the termination of a cap on highly-skilled migrants. However, she stressed her worries for the lack of low-skilled migrants in the future.
“We have a lot of new UK citizens and Brits who are entrepreneurs now – be it in start-ups or any food innovative local places – where would they fill in the gap of low-skilled migrants from?” Bhardwaj said.
“The lack of low-skilled migrants will be problematic for sure – a lot of British people don’t want to do a certain job role, and who will fill that role?”
Noting several new proposals making transitions more difficult for employment, such as May’s immigration rule that employers should sponsor the families of foreign workers, the former UK director of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) is
worried the impact it could have on Indian businesses.
Pratik Dattani told Eastern Eye: “As an SME and a former UK head of India’s oldest chamber of commerce, this sends absolutely the wrong signal to Indian businesses looking to set up in the UK.”
Nikhil Shah, co-founder of technology company S-Cube, told Eastern Eye he hoped the latest rules would work to help students and graduates stay in the UK. He said technology companies’ domains are looking to hire science and engineering grads continuously.
“To support this [need], the government needs to entice EU grads who are completing degrees at institutions like Cambridge and Imperial to want to stay and work in the UK, rather than move away due to Brexit uncertainty,” he said.
However, activist Bhardwaj revealed to Eastern Eye that she was unsure if foreigners would even want to immigrate to the UK regardless of the new immigration changes.
“Why would someone want to go through all this [trouble with the home office and visa restrictions],” she said. “I know some of my friends back in India… they are scared, and people tell each other don’t go to the UK.”
She added her own visa troubles have contributed majorly to her mental health and she relies on anti-depressants and counselling sessions.
“I didn’t come to the UK to live like this,” Bhardwaj said.