Proposals for new restrictions to cut numbers of low-skilled migrants from Europe following Brexit have been revealed in a leaked Home Office paper.
The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, suggests that new arrangements would be immediately introduced at the point the UK finally leaves the EU at the end of a transition period lasting at least two years.
Departure from the EU will mean “the end of rights-based, unconditional free movement”, with the Government adopting powers to take “a more selective approach” to which migrants will be allowed to work and settle in the UK.
It is understood that the document – marked “Official Sensitive” – is a draft version of an upcoming White Paper which has been circulated among senior officials and politicians but has not been agreed by ministers. It is described as “a platform for discussion”.
“The Government will take a view on the economic and social needs of the country as regards EU migration, rather than leaving this decision entirely to those wishing to come here and employers,” it states.
This could involve requiring EU nationals to seek permission before taking up a job, making employers recruit locally first or restrict access to lower-skilled occupations which are not experiencing staffing shortages, the document suggests.
The Guardian quoted the document as saying: “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 leaked paper makes clear that the Government’s handling of post-Brexit migration will continue to be driven by the aim of reducing net immigration to “sustainable” levels, previously defined by Prime Minister Theresa May as below 100,000 a year.
Wherever possible, UK employers should “look to meet their labour needs from resident labour”, it suggests.
Among proposals floated to cut numbers of lower-skilled migrants are a restriction to two years’ residency, compared to work permits for a longer period of three to five years for those in high-skilled occupations.
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. But they will have to show passports, rather than using a national identity card to enter the country.
Under the document’s proposals, 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.
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.
An EU national living in the UK wanting to bring their spouse in from outside the EU may have to show they earn the £18,600 a year minimum required from the restriction already imposed on Britons, said the document. And it says the UK is considering measures to require certain travellers to apply in advance for electronic travel authorisation.
The paper sets out possible arrangements for three phases of Britain’s withdrawal process, the period during which current residents will be able to apply for “settled status” in the UK; an implementation period of at least two years following the March 2019 date of Brexit; and the future era of new immigration controls.
During the implementation period, travellers can expect to experience “relatively few changes to current rules”, the document states. A Government spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaked draft documents.
“We will be setting out our initial proposals for a new immigration system which takes back control of the UK’s borders later in the autumn.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: “This document seems to contradict the Home Secretary’s decision just over a month ago to ask the Migration Advisory Committee to provide all the evidence to underpin a new immigration policy.
“Why have they asked the MAC to do a major programme of work if they have already decided what they want to do”.
“We understand there was opposition from Number 10 to seeking independent evidence from the MAC.
“Does this document reflect the view of the Home Office or Number 10? The Government’s process for developing its policy seems to be completely confused.
“And what assessment has been done of the impact or the inter-relationship between immigration proposals and any trade or single market deal?” Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: “The Government’s post-Brexit immigration crackdown isn’t just economically illiterate, it’s plainly cruel too.
“Ministers know that ending free movement will damage the British economy, yet they are ploughing ahead regardless. Now they’re also planning draconian rules on family members of EU nationals and harsh income requirements too.”
Labour MP Alison McGovern, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign against hard Brexit, said:
“This leaked document is part and parcel of a mean and cynical approach which is already deterring people from coming here, for example by sending deportation letters to people with every right to be here, and justifying a Home Office crackdown on international students by deploying totally bogus statistics.
“At the end of the day, the best way of reducing immigration is to crash our economy, which is exactly what the Government’s plan to pull out of the single market and the customs union risks doing.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “These leaked proposals are a disgrace – these policies as proposed by the Home Office will effectively break up family units. “It only exacerbates the uncertainty already experienced by EU citizens who have chosen to make the UK their home.
“This paper serves to placate the Brexiteers and to further destroy any shred of goodwill with our European partners during a crucial time of the exit negotiations.
“It’s a further example of the UK Government’s one-size-fits-all approach to immigration which fails to recognise that immigration is essential to the strength of our economy, as well as adds greatly to our cultural fabric.
“The registration of EU nationals will only increase the burden on a Home Office that can’t cope with the current system – as evidenced by the recent episode in which 100 deportation notices were mistakenly sent to EU nationals.”
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TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s no wonder these back-of-an-envelope plans are causing rows between ministers. They would do nothing to tackle falling living standards and insecure jobs.
“These plans would create an underground economy, encouraging bad bosses to exploit migrants and undercut decent employers offering good jobs.”
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Interim Ukip leader Steve Crowther said: “The Government’s discussion paper takes the right line, aiming to adjust immigration to benefit not just migrants but the communities they are coming into.
“We would want to see the measurement of that done properly, without fudging.
“The measures to prioritise higher-skilled migrants over low-skilled ones are absolutely non-negotiable. Low-skilled migration benefits businesses, not communities.
“The ending of free movement from day one and the cessation of ECJ jurisdiction are paramount.”
Chai Patel of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “This leak suggests that the Government plans to extend its current poor and unfair treatment of non-EU immigrants to European citizens post-Brexit.
“It shows that the Government has learnt nothing from its past failures on immigration. The net migration target doesn’t work. “Treating migrants with hostility doesn’t work. Our rules on family migration are extremely cruel. Acting as if migration and migrants are the cause of problems is a failed strategy.
“Bringing EU nationals into the failing immigration enforcement system will prove disastrous. “Brexit is an opportunity for root-and-branch reform of the immigration system to make it fit for purpose and fairer for all immigrants, EU and non-EU alike, rather than a moment to reduce EU migrants’ rights.’