We all heard the public’s concerns about immigration in the run-up to the EU referendum. These were concerns held by many voters on both sides of the debate. The result of that referendum was clear: the UK will be leaving the European Union on the
This is an historic moment, but let us be clear. The United Kingdom has a proud history of being an open and welcoming nation, and this will not change. As the son of immigrant parents, I know full well the contribution they, like many other migrants, made to the community I grew up in. We recognise and value the contribution of immigration and the contribution it has made to our society, our culture, our economy and our communities, and this cannot be over-stressed. For example, there is how it has helped to deliver vital public services. It has brought new perspectives, expertise and knowledge, stimulating growth and making us all the more the tolerant, outward-looking nation that we are today.
Britain is going to stay open for business. We will continue to welcome talented migrants from every corner of the globe. We have been clear in saying to the 3 million EU nationals already here, “We value hugely the contribution that you have made to this country. Deal or no deal, we want you to stay, and we will protect your rights.” The future system is about making sure immigration works in the best interests of the UK. We are absolutely not closing our doors. We are simply making sure that we have control over who comes through them, ensuring, as we committed to do in our manifesto, that we are able to bring annual net migration down to more sustainable levels.
Today, we have published a White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals for doing this through a single, skills-based immigration system that will seize the unique opportunities enabled by the end of free movement. Copies are available for right hon. and hon. Members in the Vote Office. I would like to highlight to the House the key proposals and principles in it.
First, free movement will come to an end. Tomorrow, we will introduce the immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) Bill to implement this. It will make European economic area and Swiss nationals and their family members subject to UK immigration control, and it will protect the status of Irish nationals. This means that in the future everyone other than British and Irish citizens will need to get UK permission before they can come here.
Secondly, there will be a single immigration system for all nationalities. The existing automatic preference for EU citizens will end. This approach will give everyone the same chance, regardless of where they are from—levelling the playing field to welcome the most talented workers from anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, this will be a skills-based system, giving priority to those with the skills we need. We are taking this approach to ensure that we can attract the brightest and the best people to the UK—those who will help our economy flourish. This follows advice that has been commissioned by the Government from the independent Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of European migration on the UK economy and society. We believe this is fair, and it will help drive up wages and productivity across our economy.
Following these three principles, we are acting to make the future immigration system work for those coming to our country, for businesses, for our public services and for the UK as a whole. Our approach will maintain protections for British workers while cutting bureaucracy. Fundamental to this will be a new route for skilled workers to ensure that employers can access the talent that they need to compete on the world stage. There will be no cap on numbers and no requirement for the highest skilled workers to undertake a resident labour market test, and there will be a minimum salary threshold.
We are also creating a time-limited short-term workers route to ensure businesses have the staff that they need to fill jobs, as they adapt to a new immigration system. We will ask the MAC to keep this scheme under review, so that it ensures a smooth transition. This route will be open to seasonal and low-skilled workers, along with high-skilled workers who need to come to the UK for longer than the current business visitor visa rules allow. Those who arrive under this scheme will have no rights to access public funds, to settle or to bring in dependants. The White Paper sets out our initial proposals to allow these short-term workers to come to the UK for 12 months at a time, followed by a year-long cooling-off period to prevent long-term working. We will be engaging extensively with businesses and with stakeholders on the length of the stay and the cooling-off period to make sure that we get this right.
These proposals will give protection to British workers, but we have recognised that immigration alone cannot be the solution, so we will continue as a Government, working in partnership with business, to invest in and to improve the productivity and skills of the UK workforce.
Our world-class universities will also benefit from the proposed new system. There will be no limits on the number of international students who will come here, and we continue to encourage them to come and study here. We will make it easier for graduates to stay and to work. This will widen the talent pool for businesses and boost economic growth.
Our plans are about opening Britain up for business, rather than creating new red tape. The future immigration system will be quick and easy to use. We will introduce a streamlined application process for those who are visiting, coming to work or coming to study, and this will use the very latest technology. This will improve the experience visitors and travellers have when they are crossing the border. We will also make it possible for more people to use e-gates. At the same time, we will improve security at the border by introducing an electronic travel authorisation scheme and phasing out the use of insecure national identity cards.
We are proposing a single, skills-based immigration system that will be fit for the future—one that is flexible to accommodate the trade deals that we agree with the EU and with other countries. It will operate from 2021, and it will be phased in to give individuals, businesses and the Government the time needed to adapt. This means that individuals do not need to make immediate changes and that businesses do not need to rush through plans based on guesswork about the future system.
The immigration White Paper outlines the proposals for the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation. However, it is important to note that it is not the final word; rather, it is the starting point of a national conversation on a future immigration system. I am pleased to announce that the Government will be launching a year-long programme of engagement across the UK to ensure that a wide range of views are heard.
I am confident all the measures that have been outlined today will ensure that the UK continues to flourish outside the EU; that the future immigration system is geared towards controlling who can come here and for what purpose, reducing net migration, while ensuring the brightest and the best can work and study here; and that it will boost our economy and benefit the British people. We are building a fair and sustainable immigration system that answers the concerns people have rightly had about free movement—an immigration system that is designed in Britain, made in Britain and serves our national interest. I commend this statement to the House.