By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — EU nationals without a well-paid job offer and sufficient qualifications will be unable to work in the UK in the future, according to a tough new ‘points-based’ immigration system that will come into force when it leaves the EU’s Single Market at the end of 2020.
Boris Johnson’s government, which presented the new system on Wednesday (19 February), wants to focus on attracting ‘high skilled’ workers to the UK when freedom of movement to and from the EU ends in December. The new rules make it easier for non-EU migrants to get a working visa in the UK, but mark a significant tightening for EU nationals.
New immigration routes will open from autumn 2020 for applications to work, live and study in the UK from 1 January 2021. The scheme will not affect Irish citizens, who will continue to have access to the UK under the Common Travel Area.
Migrants wishing to live and work in the UK will need to have a job offer paying a salary of at least £25,600. They will also be required to be educated to A level standard (which UK students obtain aged 18) and to speak English.
Potential migrants to the UK will have to score 70 points on the new system in order to qualify for a visa. They would not be able to access welfare benefits until receiving ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK, a process which takes five years.
The wage requirement can fall to £20,480, but only if applicants can demonstrate additional qualifications or are applying for so-called ‘shortage occupation’ posts, which include a wider range of jobs like nurses, teachers, doctors, engineers, chefs, IT technicians and artists.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the “government wanted to “encourage people with the right talent” and “reduce the levels of people coming to the UK with low skills”.
Patel also encouraged UK firms to focus on training and recruiting from what she described as around eight million “economically inactive” workers in the UK.
The government is also promising a fast-track visa scheme for foreign doctors and nurses to work in the NHS as part of the immigration overhaul.
Applicants coming to work in the NHS will receive preferential treatment with extra points under the points-based system, and no cap on numbers entering through the NHS route.
The Johnson government has made a series of concessions on both income – which was initially pencilled in at £30,000 – and qualifications after business leaders across a range of sectors warned that they would be unable to fill vacancies and meet demand without EU workers.
But business leaders were still cautious.
“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,” warned Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.
The new scheme will be particularly controversial in Scotland, whose economy is more reliant on EU migrant workers in its tourism and public sectors than the rest of the UK.
Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the plans would be “devastating” for the Scottish economy.
“All of Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is set to come from migration,” Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Europe minister has told EURACTIV.