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Low-skill migration to fall after Brexit, promises May

Theresa May making a statement on Brexit talks, at Downing Street on 21 September 2018

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The UK will have control of its immigration policy for the first time in decades after Brexit, Theresa May has promised.

The prime minister said low-skilled immigration will fall under a new visa system where it is “workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from”.

The plans follow a recommendation by the Migration Advisory Committee, which was also backed by Labour.

The cabinet agreed to the committee’s recommendations last week.

Mrs May said: “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, as we promised.

“At the same time we are training up British people for the skilled jobs of the future.”

A White Paper outlining how the system will work will be published in the autumn, ahead of legislation next year.

Under the proposals:

  • The passports of short-stay tourists and business people from all “low-risk” countries would be scanned at e-gates – currently only EU citizens can do this
  • Security and criminal records checks would be carried out before visits, similar to the system of prior authorisation in the US
  • Workers wanting to stay for longer periods would need a minimum salary, to “ensure they are not competing with people already in the UK”
  • Successful applicants for high-skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family, but only if sponsored by their future employers
  • The new system will not cap the number of student visas

Mrs May said the UK will be an outward-facing nation after Brexit but must attract the people the country needs.

She said: “Two years ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union and take back control of our borders.

“When we leave we will bring in a new immigration system that ends freedom of movement once and for all.”

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She added: “It will be a system that looks across the globe and attracts the people with the skills we need.

“Crucially it will be fair to ordinary working people. For too long people have felt they have been ignored on immigration and that politicians have not taken their concerns seriously enough.”

The government has announced the rights EU citizens already living and working in the UK will be safeguarded after Brexit.

EU freedom of movement allows people from the European Economic Area – all EU countries, as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – plus Switzerland, to travel and work within the area without visas, regardless of skills.

People from outside the EU can apply for visas, including “Tier 2” visas. The current policy is to allow 20,700 high-skilled workers into the UK each year on Tier 2 visas.

The rules were recently relaxed for people taking jobs in the NHS.

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