UK home secretary unveils post-Brexit migration plans

Disquiet over immigration was viewed as one of the major drivers of the Brexit vote, in which 52% of Britons voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. The United Kingdom is to formally leave the European bloc on March 29, 2019.
Wednesday 19/12/2018
Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid makes a statement to the House of Commons about the proposals in the government’s immigration White Paper,  December 19. (AP)
Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid makes a statement to the House of Commons about the proposals in the government’s immigration White Paper, December 19. (AP)

LONDON – UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid said there would be no “specific target” for reducing the number of immigrants entering Britain as part of his post-Brexit migration plan, breaking with a longstanding government pledge to reduce numbers to the “tens of thousands.”

A migration cut has been championed by embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May and was part of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto but Javid indicated he hopes to follow a more nuanced approach to migration in post-Brexit Britain.

“There is no specific target. It will be a system that will bring net migration down to more sustainable levels,” he told the BBC.

“If you look at the current level of migration, the latest stats show 273,000. Most people agree that is very high, certainly by historical standards. In the last two decades, it has been in the hundreds of thousands. If you go back further than that, it was much lower.”

“What we want to do is bring it to a level where it is sustainable, in the sense that it meets first our economic need and at the same time, though, it is not too high a burden on our communities or on our infrastructure,” he added.

Javid’s comments came as the Home Office issued a white paper setting out plans for post-Brexit Britain, including scrapping the current cap on the number of skilled workers, such as doctors or engineers, from the European Union and beyond and allowing low-skilled workers to apply for short-term visas.

While Britons anxiously await to see what kind of relationship the United Kingdom will have with the European Union post-Brexit, it looks increasingly certain that low-skilled workers from EU countries will not have the automatic right to work in the United Kingdom after Brexit.

May recently emerged from negotiations with the European Union with a deal that would end freedom of movement but which few political observers say will make it through a tough British parliamentary vote. Another option is “no deal” with Britain crashing out of the European Union next month, an outcome that would also end freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Disquiet over immigration was considered one of the major drivers of the June 2016 Brexit vote, in which 52% of Britons voted to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom is to formally leave the European bloc on March 29, 2019.

There were questions about Javid’s post-Brexit migration plans, including from the head of his own government. May, the longest-serving Home Secretary of modern times, on December 19 explicitly denied that the government was changing its immigration pledges, confirming that the government was sticking to the “tens of thousands” target for net migration.

There is also a lack of agreement over salary requirement for migrants, with the cabinet reportedly split on the issue of introducing a 30,000-pound ($38,000) minimum threshold for highly skilled workers.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and other ministers, including Business Secretary Gregory Clark, warned that setting the threshold at 30,000 pounds would severely restrict some sectors, particularly the National Health Service, from recruiting staff after Brexit.

May reportedly wanted to implement an even higher threshold but was persuaded to accept the lower figure after a cabinet standoff that threatened to delay the publication of the white paper.

Javid told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that, although the 30,000-pound threshold was included in the white paper, the figure could change.

“We are not setting the exact threshold today. There will be a threshold. The MAC [migration advisory committee] suggested it should be 30,000 pounds,” he said.

“While that is their view… it is equally important to listen to business and find the right threshold. So we will be setting out today, we shall consult further on whether it is 30,000 pounds or thereabouts.”

Speaking on the same programme, NHS Providers Deputy Chief Executive Saffron Cordery welcomed the clarification. “High skills do not equal high pay. You have got starting salaries for nurses at 23,000 pounds ($29,000) — also for paramedics, midwives. Junior doctors starting salaries at 27,000 pounds ($34,000), health-care assistants at 17,000 pounds ($21,500) all coming in way below that 30,000-pound cap.”

“It is not just health workers, it is social care as well. We have to remember where the skills lay. They lay in those staff under 30,000 pounds,” she added.