London, May 18 (PTI) The UK's 'historic' new strategy for visas and immigration, which is pitched as a points-based system established on skills rather than the country of origin, returned to the House of Commons on Monday.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020, which was tabled in March but had its progress slowed down due to the coronavirus crisis, forms the basis for the UK's post-Brexit plans once the European Union (EU) free movement rules come to a close at the end of the year.
“This historic piece of legislation gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country,” said UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is leading the charge on the new strategy.
“Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler. It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy,” the Indian-origin minister said.
Under the new system, to be enforced from January 1 next year, the magic number of points required to apply to work and stay in the UK will be 70. These will accrue in increments of 20 or 10 based on professional skills, English language proficiency, a job offer from an approved sponsor and salary levels between GBP 20,480 and GBP 25,600 or above.
The changes have previously been largely welcomed by the Indian industry and student groups, who have called for flexibility for employers and visa sponsors to be able to attract the right kind of skills.
Patel has described the bill, which will have its second reading in Parliament this week, as a “once in a generation” opportunity to build a future that works for the whole of the UK and for employers to focus on upskilling and investing in the workforce this country has.
This bill gives the UK flexibility and control over its borders so it can attract top talent from around the world to complement the skills already here, the Home Office said.
“Talented doctors, nurses and paramedics from all over the world are currently playing a leading role in the NHS' efforts to fight the coronavirus and save lives and we thank them – and all our NHS [National Health Service] staff – for the work they are doing. Our new immigration system will make it easier and quicker for medical professionals around the world to work in the NHS through a new fast-track NHS visa,” the Home Office statement added.
However, Opposition parties and critics of the Conservative government's changes have expressed concerns over the timing of the bill, given that a large group of care workers on the coronavirus frontlines come from within the EU.
The Labour Party's Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the plans were 'not fair and not in the national interest'.
The devolved Scottish government's immigration minister, Ben Macpherson, has also written to Patel, asking her to 'pause and reconsider' the plans.
“The pandemic has shown beyond doubt that jobs which the UK Government has previously described as ‘lower-skilled’ are in fact a whole range of absolutely vital roles, filled by dedicated people with valuable skills and knowledge,” he said.
The free movement of people within the EU was seen as a key factor behind the UK's vote to exit the 27-member European economic bloc in the June 2016 referendum, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's landslide general election win in December last year viewed as a vote in favour of his skills-based immigration system manifesto pledge.
However, a latest YouGov opinion poll commissioned by the UK's Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found a shift in perceptions over immigration, with 54 per cent of people now shown as supportive of looser immigration controls for workers regarded as essential during the pandemic.
JCWI Chief Executive Satbir Singh said that such workers on the frontline, including carers and supermarket workers, 'are not 'unskilled' or unwelcome, they are the backbone of our country and they deserve the security of knowing that this place can be their home too'.
A group of small businesses based in the UK have also issued a joint letter to Priti Patel to put off the changes beyond the January 2021 deadline in order for businesses to cope with the coronavirus pandemic fallout.
“Preparing for the new system was already a huge challenge for employers, even before we were also facing the coronavirus pandemic,” reads the letter signed by nearly 30 small businesses in the country. PTI AK RS RS