MPs to vote on immigration bill which will bar low-skilled migrants

18 May 2020, 06:03

Labour has branded the new legislation ‘a threat to the national interest’
Labour has branded the new legislation ‘a threat to the national interest’. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

MPs will vote later Government plans to end "low-skilled" immigration altogether at the end of this year through a new post-Brexit immigration system which Labour has branded a "threat to the national interest".

Ministers will launch a fresh attempt to remove EU freedom of moment regulations in the UK with the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.

The Bill is part of the move towards the Government's new points-based immigration system and abolishes the free movement of people from the EU at the end of 2020 when the Brexit transition period is scheduled to expire.

Under the new Bill it will become effectively impossible for anyone paid under £20,000 to get a UK work visa, however, there will be an exemption for those wishing to work in the NHS.

Critics of the legislation have said the coronavirus crisis has brought the importance of other low-paid sectors such as social care, delivery drivers and supermarket workers.

The legislation will make it effectively impossible for anyone paid less than £20,000 to get a visa to work in the UK. There will be an exemption for those wishing to work in the NHS, but critics argue the coronavirus crisis has emphasised the importance of other low-paid sectors such as social care, delivery drivers and supermarket workers.

The Bill will be debated at second reading on Monday and then make its way through the parliamentary process.

It was previously introduced in the Commons in December 2018 but stalled weeks later as then prime minister Theresa May's minority administration lacked the numbers to win key Brexit-linked votes.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson brings it back with an 80-seat majority but amid pressure for the immigration rules to support those dubbed "key workers" during the coronavirus pandemic.

A YouGov poll, for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), suggested 54% of Britons would support loosening immigration restrictions for workers who were defined as essential during the crisis.

The Government's list of critical workers includes people in the food production and processing industry, such as delivery drivers, those working in waste disposal and more.

In February the Government announced proposals for the new system, with points awarded for specific requirements such as being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer and meeting a salary threshold of £25,600.

Other points could be awarded for certain qualifications and if there is a shortage in a particular occupation.

A visa allowing doctors, nurses and health professionals from overseas to work in the NHS was introduced in March.

Ahead of the Bill's return to the Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a brief statement: "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.

"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."

Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to his Tory counterpart urging her to “think again”.

“I believe the government’s plan to rush through this immigration legislation is an insult to our incredible NHS staff and care workers,” he said.

“It is, frankly, rank hypocrisy from the government towards EU nationals – over 180,000 in England and Wales alone – who are currently working in our NHS and in the care sector, for ministers to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday.”

He suggested the new policy was “a threat to the national interest”.

Elsewhere, Satbir Singh, chief executive of the JCWI, called for further changes and said: "The fight against Covid-19 has shown us all just how much our survival and wellbeing depends on our key workers.

"So many of them have come from other countries and help keep this one running.

"Bus drivers and lorry drivers, care workers and shop workers, nurses and cleaners - they 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."

Full details of the new immigration rules, which will see EU and non-EU migrants treated equally, will not be published until later this year, but are expected to include minimum salary thresholds.