LONDON: An unlimited number of highly skilled workers from India will be able to migrate to the UK after Brexit in proposals that mark the biggest overhaul of Britain’s immigration system in 40 years.

UK home secretary Sajid Javid published on Wednesday a much-delayed white paper setting out a new immigration system based on skills and talent, not where people are from.

It announces the complete removal of a cap on the number of work visas issued —the current cap is 20,700 per year — and ends the requirement for resident labour market tests by UK employers in which businesses have to advertise positions to UK workers first.

Javid, the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, said the proposals were “the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation”, ending the current dual system of admitting only highly skilled workers from outside the EU, and workers of all skill levels from the EU.

“We are taking a skills-based approach to ensure we can attract the brightest and best migrants to the UK,” he said, adding the measures would boost productivity and wages and the economy.

The new skilled work visa route, which will be open to non-EU and EU citizens alike, will have an annual salary threshold in the region of £30,000 and require sponsorship from an employer, as tier 2 visas do. But there will be no resident market labour test and the new skilled route will include workers with intermediate level skills, such as A level, not just graduates. Those who come through this route will be able to bring dependants, extend their stay and switch to other routes and settle permanently.

The rules also extend the length of time that international students can stay in Britain to work after their degrees end, from four months to six months if they have a bachelor’s or master’s, and to 12 months if they have a PhD. But this falls short of the demand for a return to the two-year post-work study visa which Indian student bodies in the UK have been calling for.

After Javid outlined the proposals in the House of Commons, MPs raised concerns about the future supply of workers in agriculture tourism, construction, and care provision, many of whom come from the EU but whose salaries do not meet the skilled route threshold.

The system will remain flexible as those on lower salaries may be excluded from the threshold if they are shortage occupations, and the home office was not ruling out sectoral labour schemes such as for seasonal agricultural work, Javid said.

The white paper also announces a new short-term workers scheme which will allow workers in lower-skilled jobs that do not meet the salary threshold of the skilled route to come to the UK for 12 months. They can switch employers during that period as no sponsorship will be required. However, they will not be able to extend it and it is unclear if Indians will be able to use this route. The white paper states: “This new route will only be available to nationals of specified countries, for example those low-risk countries with whom the UK negotiates an agreement concerning the supply of labour, including returns arrangements.”

The home office refused to comment. Employers will be responsible for checking prospective employees have a visa. This route does not entitle anyone to access public funds or rights to extend a stay, switch to other routes, bring dependants or lead to permanent settlement.

Shiva Kadu, an Indian software engineer, 27, working in London, who arrived in the UK in 2016 on a tier 2 visa, said: “When the plumber came to my house yesterday, he was Spanish. Most of the low skilled jobs are done by Europeans across London. If these people get restricted it will be very difficult for residents to fulfil that much manpower in a short space of time.” Kadu, who hails from Amravati in Maharashtra, added: “The new policy mostly favours the high skilled workers, which is good for my kind as we are in the high-skilled visa category. Removing the cap of 20,700 on the high-skilled category is a bold and good move as London is built on immigrants’ skills.”

“Indian industry has long called for a fair, transparent and skills-based immigration system, and today’s proposals go some way to achieving these goals. Tackling the UK’s skills gaps, particularly in digital and technology, must remain a key focus for government and it is welcome that this paper recognises the value that skilled workers from overseas can bring to helping improve the UK’s skills base,” said Jim Bligh, chair, CII UK India Business Forum.

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