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Brexit: Low-skilled EU migrants to be targeted by Government, leaked documents reveal

A new system could see a ‘direct numerical cap’ on low paid workers or require European citizens to earn a certain amount

The Independent

Joe Watts

5 September, 2017

The UK’s post-Brexit immigration system will crack down on low-paid EU migrants – potentially capping their numbers – and strip European citizens of rights to bring family members to Britain, a leaked government paper suggests.

The Home Office documents set out how a new system would give the Government powers to refuse EU citizens entry and the right to work, and demand a minimum income level of anyone wishing to stay in the UK.

Employers could also be forced to recruit Britons to certain jobs, while access would be denied to immigrants wanting to work in some low-skilled sectors, the document suggests.

The proposals leaked to The Guardian, say: “Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off.”
The paper is not a reflection of the final system being adopted by the Government, accepting that some things will be left open to negotiation. It confirms details of proposals set out by the Prime Minister earlier this year – which would see free movement end on Brexit day and a phased approach to a new system. But it also sets out how breaking from the jurisdiction of EU law will allow the UK to curtail rights currently afforded to Europeans.
The document suggests that in the future only EU workers that have a high level of skills would be given permission to stay in the UK longer than three years. It says: “We are minded to grant those in highly skilled occupations and who have a contract of employment of more than 12 months, a permit lasting three to five years. For those in other occupations, it may be up to two years.”


The plan sets out possible options for restricting access to low-skilled workers, including one option to implement a “direct numerical cap on numbers”.

While precise details are not given, the document suggests the Government is also minded to introduce an income threshold for some EU citizens before they are allowed to stay. It says the threshold would be “reasonable, but specific” enough to show the person is self-sufficient.

The document then goes on to suggest there should be tough new restrictions on the rights of EU migrants to bring families to the UK, ditching existing rules that give European citizens rights to bring relatives in without Home Office permission.

The section, likely to prove contentious, says: “We may wish to tighten up the definition of a family member from its current meaning under free movement law. We will no longer apply the EU definition of ‘extended’ family members, where there is virtually no limit on the distance of the relationship.”


It adds: “We propose to define family members as direct family members only (plus durable partners), aligning with the current system for non-EU nationals.”

The paper sets out the Home Office’s chosen approach  to clamping down on large numbers of EU workers, making clear that the guiding “ambition” will be to lower net migration, which Theresa May has pledged to reduce to below 100,000.


The document says: “We may require EU nationals seeking to reside in the UK, for example to work, to obtain permission to do so before taking up employment or before entering the UK, we may require employers to recruit locally first, or we may restrict access to occupations that are not in shortage, particularly in non-highly skilled occupations.”

Tougher border controls would also see EU citizens have to show a passport when entering the UK, rather than the national identity cards they can currently enter with. People wishing to enter the UK during a proposed transition phase to the new system would also have to provide proof of citizenship either with a passport or  “Home Office biometric immigration document”.


TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady attacked the proposals, saying: “It’s no wonder these back-of-an-envelope plans are causing rows between ministers. They would do nothing to tackle falling living standards and insecure jobs.”

Labour MP Alison McGovern, a leading supporter of the Open Britain Campaign, said: “Our economy and our public services benefit massively from the contributions of EU citizens. There are 60,000 working in our NHS alone and many others working in all sectors, including in so-called ‘low-skilled’ jobs. Without their efforts, our economy and our public services would be put at risk.

“The Government need to show that Britain is open to those who want to come here to work hard and contribute.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “These leaked proposals are a disgrace. These policies as proposed by the Home Office will effectively break up family units.”

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