Successful applicants would be able to bring their immediate family only if they were sponsored by future employers.
Indian citizens and other non-EU citizens would have the same immigration rights as EU citizens in the U.K., under a system that will give priority to high-skilled workers. However, the new system will introduce even further restrictions on the ability of Indian workers and their families to come to the U.K. — requiring any family to be sponsored by the employer.
The move would be the biggest shake-up of Britain’s immigration system in decades, Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement released late on Monday, following her address at the Conservative Party conference on Monday.
Britain would end “freedom of movement once and for all,” Ms. May told delegates, referring to the system which is a fundamental principle of the EU, and which allows its citizens to look for a job in other member countries, work there without a permit, reside there and stay on even after employment has ended.
“It will be a skills based system where it is workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from. It will be a system that looks across the globe and attracts the people with the skills we need.”
However, successful applicants would be able to bring their immediate family only if they were sponsored by future employers, thereby increasing the potential costs of businesses and putting further obstacles in the way of people being able to bring their families to the UK. Under the existing system, family members are able to bring family members with them if they meet certain criteria, including crossing a certain salary threshold.
“It will be more difficult for EU citizens and for non-EU citizens…immigration is clearly being treated as the most important issue in Brexit…not trade or investment,” says Pratik Dattani, managing director of EPG Consulting and former U.K. director of FICCI. He added that many questions remained as to what the salary threshold for those coming to the U.K. was going to be. “If companies have to sponsor the whole family will it have to be much higher than it is now?” In a report published earlier this month the government’s Migration Advisory Committee had recommended maintaining salary thresholds at the current level.
“The system is already extremely restrictive for workers from India and this is going to make it even more so,” says Harsev Bains of the Indian Workers Association. He added that the problem of divided families — with children and spouses stuck abroad because the main earner’s salary didn’t meet a certain threshold — was only likely set to get worse, while new challenges would be brought into the mix. “Will employers now make a distinction between the types of people who they would be willing to hire — whether they are married or whether they have children?”
The government also said it would also introduce a “swift system of e-gate visa checks for tourists and visitors coming to the country for short stay business trips from all low risk countries.”
It is unlikely that India would be included in this list. When Britain explained its reasons for excluding India from an easing of visa documentation requirements for foreign students earlier this year, it pointed to risk assessments of different countries when it came to their risk of overstaying, suggesting India continues to be considered a high risk country in Britain.
During the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, some politicians courted voters from the South Asian diaspora with promises that Brexit — by enabling Britain to restrict the rights of EU citizens to travel to the U.K. — could provide the government with the capacity to ease rules for those from non-EU countries.
“Because we are unable to restrict migration from the EU, immigrants from non-EU countries have faced more restrictions to help ease the pressure from immigration,” said former International Development Secretary Priti Patel who campaigned strongly to leave the EU in 2016 ahead of the referendum. “I know that many members of the Indian diaspora find it deeply unfair that other EU nationals effectively get special treatment. This can and will change if Britain leaves the EU,” she said then.
Alongside concerns about the ramping up of restrictive measures, businesses and politicians expressed their concerns about the impact the measures would have on the UK economy. The policy “fails to understand how our economy works, needs of British business and reality of full employment,’ said former Conservative Minister Anna Soubry. “There is no army of U.K. workers waiting to do unskilled jobs.”
“The Prime Minister’s proposals for a new system have taken a wrong turn,” said the industry body the CBI “All skill levels matter to the U.K. economy. Today’s proposals risk worsening labour shortages, already serious in construction, hospitality and care. Restricting access to the workers the U.K. needs is self-defeating.”
Mr. Dattani said that the changes would add to the uncertainty facing businesses — particularly SMEs and fast growing tech companies — who would likely hold off hiring foreign workers until further clarity on the processes and costs of the new system emerged in coming months (a white paper on immigration is expected later this year). “The statement is very political and leaves more questions than it answers.”