Low-skilled EU migrants ‘may have to apply for work permits’
Migration Advisory Committee says government is considering new system, as think tank warns NHS will ‘collapse’ without special dispensation on immigration
Ministers are reported to be considering a policy that requires low-skilled EU nationals to apply for work permits to stay in the UK after Britain leaves the European Union.
Professor Sir David Metcalf, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, told the Telegraph that work permits are being considered as part of a series of options to cut the level of EU migration. “It would be remiss of the Migration Advisory Committee not to have actually done a bit of thinking about some of these things,” he said, pointing to existing provisions that cap the number of seasonal agricultural workers arriving in the UK. “I think it [work permits] is a pretty straightforward way and you already have a model that works.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed that curbing net migration will be her “absolute priority” during Brexit negotiations, but senior officials have been tight-lipped about exactly which methods will be employed, or the status of EU nationals already in the UK workforce.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) today added additional impetus to these issues, saying the NHS needed to retain its EU workers to avoid ‘collapse’. In February, 57,063 of the NHS’s 1.2 million staff were citizens of other EU countries, accounting for around 5 per cent of its total workforce.
The think tank said EU nationals working in the health service should be offered unconditional British citizenship, which it suggested could apply to those who have lived in the UK for six years or more.
Chris Murray, research fellow and author of the IPPR report, said: “This offer should be organised by the regional NHS and mental health trusts, which would be responsible for writing to all NHS staff who are EU nationals to inform them of their eligibility.”
The IPPR proposed waiving the £1,200 citizenship fee for NHS workers and said that individuals with globally competitive skills should be able to pay extra for a fast track to citizenship. Those in low-wage roles should be offered a government-backed loan to help pay back the costs of becoming a UK citizen, it said.
Metcalf said yesterday that half the current level of immigration – 308,000 out of 630,000 – was work-related and that it was heavily influenced by the policies of both public sector and private employers. In particular, the private sector had invested too little in the science, technology and IT skills of UK residents, which had led to pleas for such jobs to be given priority in immigration, he said. He hoped that higher migrant pay thresholds and the new £1,000 immigration skills charge would encourage greater training.
Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist at the CIPD, said: “Government should be working closely with businesses to understand and address the challenges they are facing in terms of productivity, skills and labour supply. Employers also need to be focusing on creating more skilled and more productive workplaces to make Brexit work for them. By investing in and boosting performance from people as well as processes, they’ll be able to create more sustainable, higher-performing organisations at this challenging time and in the future.”
The developments comes as the latest ONS figures recorded net migration to the UK over the past 12 months at 320,000, only slightly down on the previous year. This included 180,000 new arrivals from the EU, with the rate of Romanians and Bulgarians entering the country at ‘record’ levels.
Brinkley added: “We would expect there to be a dip in net migration over the next 12 months if the economy slows down, as we have seen in past downturns. The fall in the pound against the euro may also make relative wages in the UK less attractive to migrants from Eurozone countries.”
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