Citizens of the European Union will no longer enjoy preferential access to living and working in the post-Brexit UK from January 1, 2021 under a new points-based immigration system likely to benefit Indian professionals who are already preferred by British employers.
Announcing the radical change on Wednesday, home secretary Priti Patel – daughter of Indian-origin immigrants – said the ‘free movement’ enjoyed by EU citizens over decades of UK’s membership of the EU will end, offering more opportunities to global talent.
The UK already issues more than half of its work visas to Indian professionals (52 per cent of Tier 2 visas). The new system, which has a lower annual salary threshold (£25,600) is likely to enable more Indians to access employment opportunities in the post-Brexit UK.
British business organisations cautiously welcomed the new regime, hailing the scrapping of cap on work visas, but feared severe labour shortages when low-skilled EU citizens will no longer be available in hospitality, care, food processing and other sectors.
Patel advised them to adapt and train 8 million economically inactive people in the UK population: “UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement…(It) is important that employers move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, and wider investment in technology”.
The new system’s policy document states: “For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people. Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly-skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK”.
“Our approach will change all of this. We are implementing a new system that will transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family…From 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally”.
Applicants will need to have at least 70 points under heads such as a confirmed job offer, knowledge of English, education qualifications and salary level. Indian students enrolling from September this year will also be eligible for post-study work visa valid for two years.
Jim Bligh of the UK chapter of Confederation of Indian Industry said: “We welcome the Home Office’s proposed new system, which rightly recognises that immigration to the UK should be based on skills, salaries and knowledge of the English language”.
“For business, it’s essential that the system retains flexibility for employers, particularly those bringing in highly-skilled workers on short-term assignments to support UK plc’s growth and transformation. It will also be important to ensure salary thresholds are not a deterrent to finding staff with the right specialist skills from around the world.”
Acting British high commissioner to India, Jan Thompson, added: “The new is great news for Indian nationals looking to work in the UK. It puts Indian applicants on a level playing field, and prioritises those with the greatest skills and talent – something which India has in abundance”.
Usha Parashar, chair of FICCI UK, said: “The majority of Indian businesses in the UK require skilled manpower. The new point-based immigration system coupled with the lower salary threshold is a positive move. This has been a long standing demand of FICCI members”.
“The new system will benefit not just qualified professionals from India but also large number of Indian students in UK universities”.