Employers worried by leaked plans for 'more selective' immigration after Brexit
Leaked Government proposals to cut immigration of lower-skilled workers after Brexit have come under fire from employers, who voiced concern at the potential impact on Britain's agriculture, hospitality and healthcare sectors.
The draft of an upcoming Home Office white paper, obtained by The Guardian, sets out plans for a new "more selective approach" to which EU nationals will be allowed to live and work in the UK.
Departure from the EU will mean "the end of rights-based, unconditional free movement", with future migration rights driven by the Government's view of "the economic and social needs of the country" rather than employers' desire for European workers, the document states.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said last year's Brexit vote had shown British people wanted "control" of immigration, in part because of the impact of cheap foreign labour on wages.
"We continue to believe as a Government that it's important to have net migration at sustainable levels," she said.
"We believe that to be in the tens of thousands because of the impact, particularly, it has on people at the lower end of the income scale in depressing their wages."
Manufacturers' organisation EEF said employers would have "grave concerns" at wholesale changes to their access to lower-skilled EU workers while the National Farmers Union said an abrupt reduction in EU workers would cause "massive disruption to the entire food supply chain".
The Food and Drink Federation said employers would be "alarmed" at the Government's " deep lack of understanding" of the vital contribution of EU migrant workers to the sector.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said proposals to restrict lower-skilled migrants to two-year work permits would be "catastrophic" for hotels and restaurants.
The British Medical Association said hardline restrictions would "seriously impact patient care across the country".
The 82-page government paper, which has not been approved by ministers, suggests new immigration arrangements would be introduced "gradually" following Brexit, with an implementation period lasting at least two years.
Among proposals floated to cut numbers of lower-skilled migrants are a restriction to two years' residency, compared with work permits for a longer period of three to five years for those in high-skilled occupations.
The right to bring family members into the country could be tightened to only the most direct relatives like partners, spouses and children, and there could be an unspecified "income threshold" for EU citizens to show they can support themselves while in the UK.
There could be requirements for employers to recruit locally first and restrictions on recruitment for lower-skilled occupations which are not experiencing staffing shortages, the document suggests.
"Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better-off," the document stated.
It is not envisaged that EU citizens would be required to apply for permission to visit the UK for tourism, family visits and short business trips, or be given stamps in their passports on arrival.
However, they will have to show passports rather than using a national identity card to enter the country.
Those on longer stays would have to register with the authorities and may be required to provide fingerprints and proof of employment, self-sufficiency or study status.
Cabinet minister Sir Michael Fallon insisted the document does not represent the Government's final position and said Home Secretary Amber Rudd would bring forward finalised proposals later in the year.
He appeared to back the paper's overall strategy and stressed voters want a reduction in immigration.
The Defence Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "T here's always a balance to be struck.
"We're not closing the door on all future immigration but it has to be managed properly and people do expect to see the numbers coming down."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shied away from raising the issue at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, perhaps wary of fuelling divisions within his own party on immigration.
Shadow home affairs secretary Diane Abbott confined herself to saying that Labour will judge the eventual white paper against its goal of "fair rules and reasonable management of migration".
However, Labour's London Mayor Sadiq Khan criticised the document, calling it "an example of an extreme hard Brexit and a blueprint for strangling the London economy".
The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford called the leaked proposals "a disgrace" and said the policies could break up families.
Interim Ukip leader Steve Crowther said the paper "takes the right line" but Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: "The Government's post-Brexit immigration crackdown isn't just economically illiterate, it's plainly cruel too."
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, who served as business secretary in his party's coalition with the Tories, said Mrs May had suppressed reports which showed immigrants do not compete with British workers for jobs.
"When I was business secretary there were up to nine studies that we looked at that took in all the academic evidence.
"It showed that immigration had very little impact on wages or employment. But this was suppressed by the Home Office under Theresa May because the results were inconvenient."
Sandro Gozi, an Italian Europe minister, said the contents of the proposal could pose a difficulty if it hardened into an official position for Britain.
"The document is beyond an outline, the document is totally unhelpful," he told Channel 4 News.
"I am reassured on the fact it has been presented as a draft and I am reassured that some members of Government did not even read the document.
"It is not, to me, the official Government line."
Pressed on what the document could mean for a trade deal if it was presented by Britain, he said: "That wouldn't help at all."