Movement between the UK and the EU should remain “largely unhindered” after Brexit save for new curbs on migration for work, according to a new report.
Migration Watch UK outlined a proposed “light touch” approach for millions of visitors, businesspeople and tourists who would be free to travel to and from Britain with a passport but without any visa or permit.
But its blueprint says migration for work should take place in defined categories and under specific conditions.
Introducing a work permit system would sharply cut back the numbers who come to the UK for lower-skilled jobs, according to the group, which campaigns for tighter immigration controls.
Its paper sets out seven different categories, including very highly skilled workers, who would not be subject to any cap under the proposals.
Another group would be those with “intermediate skills” such as bricklayers and plumbers, according to the paper.
It says those in this category should also be admitted but for a “time-limited period” of two to three years, while employers would face a charge, increasing annually, to encourage them to train British replacements.
For the intermediate group, there would be no access to public funds and no route to settlement.
There would be provision for the self-employed but with “strong safeguards against abuse”, the study says, while a seasonal workers scheme could be revived to meet the needs of the agricultural sector.
Rules for overseas staff transferring to a company’s UK branch, as well as those in occupations with a shortage of workers, would mirror the system currently in place for non-EU migrants.
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the scheme outlined by the group would not only control, but also reduce immigration, probably by about 100,000 a year.
He added: “It would also slow the current rapid population increase and, in the medium-term, help ease pressure on our infrastructure, hospitals, schools and housing.
“While the negotiations are moving at a snail’s pace, the UK can and must remain open to the best talent from Europe. Visitors and students will of course be as welcome as they always have been.”
A separate study also published on Wednesday examines the concept of devolving powers relating to immigration to constituent nations and regions, which has come under the spotlight since the referendum.
The analysis by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford concludes that regional work permits can be implemented in the UK, but that doing so democratically could require a whole new system of regional government.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: “Immigration policies that respond to the needs of local areas make sense in theory, but implementing them in practice would be a complex process.”
Government officials are working to draw up arrangements which incorporate an end to EU free movement rules, while ensuring that any fall in overseas labour does not damage the economy.
Earlier this year, leaked proposals for curbs on EU migrant labour came under fire from employers, who voiced concern at the potential impact on the UK’s agriculture, hospitality and healthcare sectors.
A draft Home Office document suggested the number of EU citizens able to come to the UK for low-skilled work could be limited by a salary threshold, an assessment of the skill level of the occupation, or a direct cap on numbers.
Ministers said the paper did not represent the Government’s final position, which will be unveiled later this year.
A Home Office spokesman said: “After we leave the EU, we will put in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.
“As part of our work to develop this system, we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to assess the economic and social impact of EU citizens in all parts of the UK.
“We are carefully considering the options for the future immigration system and will set out our plans later this year.”