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Ire over India-style UK visa plans for EU citizens

Free movement of labour that allows EU citizens to move, work and settle in any member state is sought to be ended immediately after Britain leaves the European Union, expected in March 2019.

world Updated: Sep 08, 2017 18:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Protesters dressed in Tudor costumes, including one dressed as King Henry VIII, hold signs protesting elements of the European Union Withdrawal Bill that is being debated by lawmakers in the House of Commons in London on September 7, 2017. British lawmakers have begun debating the landmark bill to end Britain's membership of the European Union, with Prime Minister Theresa May gearing up for a major battle.
Protesters dressed in Tudor costumes, including one dressed as King Henry VIII, hold signs protesting elements of the European Union Withdrawal Bill that is being debated by lawmakers in the House of Commons in London on September 7, 2017. British lawmakers have begun debating the landmark bill to end Britain's membership of the European Union, with Prime Minister Theresa May gearing up for a major battle. (AFP)

Business leaders and others reacted with concern and worse over the Theresa May government’s immigration plans for European Union citizens after Brexit, which are almost similar to curbs applicable for Indian citizens and could adversely affect business.

The plans, leaked to the media this week, are not final but provide an indication of the thinking of the government on an issue that was central to the vote to leave the EU. The plans set out in Whitehall in August are subject to more changes. 

The planned curbs led to more concern and confusion among EU citizens currently in Britain over their future. Official figures released this month suggested a large number of EU citizens were leaving the UK.

The plans, yet to be finalised and agreed with Brussels, cover skilled and unskilled EU migrants and students, including their needing to prove knowledge of English. Current free movement of labour that allows EU citizens to move, work and settle in any member state is sought to be ended immediately after Brexit, expected in March 2019.

The leaked Home Office document states: “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.”

It proposes measures to cut the number of lower-skilled EU migrants and describes a phased introduction to a new system that ends the right to settle for most European migrants, and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring family members. 

The plans were promptly criticised by pro-EU sections. Business leaders said cutting lower-skilled EU labour will hit agriculture and other sectors that depend on EU migrants. Preference to British workers for British jobs is also one of the government's post-Brexit objectives.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who was business secretary in the David Cameron government (2010-2015) when May was home secretary, wrote to the prime minister, calling for publication of evidence on the impact of EU migration that he claims the Home Office suppressed.

 In the letter sent to May on Thursday, Cable wrote: “As you will recall, there were reviews, studies and reports into whether the assumption that immigration suppressed UK wages was supported by the evidence. These were shared with the Home Office. 

“They largely showed that this assumption was misplaced, and that EU migration was beneficial to the UK economy and labour market, but the information was never published. Parliament will soon consider a fundamental reshaping of the immigration system. In that light, I hope you will agree that it is in the national interest now to release these reports in full.”

However, speaking at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, May stood by her overall approach on immigration: “We continue to believe as a government that it’s important to have net migration at sustainable levels – we believe that to be the tens of thousands – because of the impact particularly it has on people at the lower end of the income scale in depressing their wages.”