Immigration to focus on skills, not origin

An engineer conducts a fatigue test on a Airbus A380 sharklet wing tip on a test rig at the Airbus aircraft manufacturer's Filton site on November 19, 2015 in Bristol, EnglandImage copyright
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The proposals would remove the cap on the number of workers classed as “highly skilled”, such as engineers

A skills-based immigration system will be introduced to “get control over our borders” when free movement from the EU ends, the home secretary will announce.

It will focus on people’s “talent and expertise… rather than where they come from”, Sajid Javid will say later.

The system – to be phased in from 2021 – would scrap the cap on high-skilled workers like doctors and engineers.

A dispute between ministers over a proposed £30,000 minimum salary for visas has resulted in a compromise.

Some members of cabinet were worried the set amount would limit the ability of businesses and services to recruit enough staff.

But agreement has been reached; the terms of it will become public when the white paper is published on Wednesday morning.

The much-delayed draft plan leaves out the long-held aim to cut net migration to less than 100,000 a year.

But the government has said it is still committed to that target.

Setting out the paper, which the government says will give it full control over immigration for the first time in decades, Mr Javid will say that it offers employers access to the skills they need.

“We are delivering on the clear instruction to get control over our borders and will bring in a new system that works in the interest of the British people,” he will say.

“It will be a single, skills-based immigration system built around the talent and expertise people can bring, rather than where they come from – maximising the benefits of immigration and demonstrating the UK is open for business.”

The white paper will introduce a new visa route for skilled migrants, from Europe and beyond.

It accepts a recommendation from the independent Migration Advisory Committee to scrap the current limit of 20,700 on workers classed as high-skilled coming to the UK using “Tier 2” visas.

End to free movement

Nicholas Watt, BBC Newsnight’s political editor, said another of the committee’s suggestions – that Tier 2 applicants must meet a £30,000 salary threshold – was the subject of a dispute between ministers.

Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that it could harm large areas of the economy. But Theresa May argued it was an example of how the government was honouring the referendum result, he said.

The two parties eventually agreed a compromise figure for the threshold.

“It is clearly the prime minister who is driving this, because this for her is really personal,” Mr Watt said. “She has taken to heart ‘take back control’.”

He added: “The absolute definitive red line for her in her negotiations is to end free movement – she’s got to show that she is delivering on that.”

Valuable workforce

Lobby group the Confederation of British Industry has previously called on net migration targets to be scrapped amid fears that reducing low-skilled immigration could damage business.

“The UK risks having too few people to run the health service, pick food crops or deliver products to stores around the country,” it warned in August.

On Tuesday, Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston told the BBC’s Newsnight many of the ‘valuable workforce’ in the in the NHS and social care did not meet a £30,000 salary threshold.

“A hospital isn’t just about the clinical staff. It’s about the porters, the people who work in the kitchen, the social care workforce, who are absolutely crucial to making sure the NHS functions properly,” she said.

There would be additional costs to the NHS of applying new bureaucratic measures, she added.

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