Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May (R) and Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond leave their hotel on the second day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018 at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, on October 1, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS
EU workers coming to settle in Britain after Brexit will require visas and the preference will be for high-skilled immigrants, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday.
At her governing Conservative Party’s annual conference, May said she would release plans for a single system for EU and non-EU migrants later this year, ahead of a bill to be published in 2019.
Immigration was a key issue in the Brexit campaign ahead of the 2016 vote to leave the bloc.
May said the European Union’s free movement of people will end with Brexit and “for the first time in decades, it will be this country that controls and chooses who we want to come here”.
“It will be a skills-based system where it is workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from,” she said in a statement.
She added: “For too long, people have felt they have been ignored on immigration.
“The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down, and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels.”
May said that those wanting to live and work in Britain for the long term would need to earn a minimum salary, and would only be able to bring their family if sponsored by their future employers.
However, she conceded that immigration policy could be affected by Britain’s future trade deals.
The EU may seek to negotiate continued preferential treatment in return for Britain’s access to its single market, while other countries could also seek visa waivers as part of their own trade agreements.
The government has already promised to protect the rights of more than three million EU citizens currently living in Britain after Brexit, even if there is no divorce deal.
British values test
Fleshing out the policy, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the new immigration rules should be overhauled to reflect Britain’s values better.
“We now have a unique opportunity to reshape our immigration system for the future,” the interior minister told the conference in a speech.
He pledged to revamp the current “Life in the UK” test for incoming citizens, which focuses on British history questions, saying it should be about more than “pub quiz” skills.
It is more important for prospective citizens to understand the “liberal, democratic values that bind our society together”.
“We need to make it a British values test.”
He said there were 700,000 people in Britain who could not speak basic English, adding: “How can we possibly make a common home together?”
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics found that in 2017, immigration ran at 630,000 people: 311,000 from outside the EU, 240,000 from within the EU and 80,000 Britons returning home.
Some 349,000 people emigrated, including 139,000 EU nationals, 126,000 Britons and 84,000 from the rest of the world, leaving net migration at 282,000.
The UK population is estimated at around 66 million.