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Post-Brexit immigration rules face Commons showdown

Labour accuses ministers of ‘rank hypocrisy’ over new immigration system amid fears it will block ‘low-skilled’ NHS and care workers who have played key role during coronavirus crisis from being able to come to the UK

  • The Government’s flagship Immigration Bill due to be debated this afternoon
  • It paves the way for introduction of Australia-style points-based immigration
  • But critics say it is unfair because it discriminates against low-paid workers
  • Labour and SNP will oppose legislation but Tory majority means it will pass 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The Government will today begin the passage of its flagship Immigration Bill through the House of Commons amid growing fears it will block ‘low-skilled’ NHS and care workers from coming to the UK. 

The draft legislation will pave the way for the introduction of an Australian-style points-based immigration system in January next year after the Brexit transition period ends. 

But Labour and the SNP have said they will oppose the Bill on the grounds they believe it discriminates against low-paid but important workers like those in the care sector. 

Labour has accused ministers of ‘rank hypocrisy’ for clapping NHS and care workers every week due to their contributions in the fight against coronavirus while also seemingly making it more difficult for people from overseas to come and fill the roles.   

Under the Government’s immigration plans a fast track NHS visa has already been introduced, granting applicants lower fees and guaranteeing swift processing. 

But it is only available to people who meet certain qualification thresholds like doctors.   

In February the Government announced proposals for the future system, with points awarded for specific requirements like being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer and meeting a salary threshold of £25,600. The salary requirement could prove a major barrier to many care workers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, pictured in Downing Street on May 14, will today see the Government’s Immigration Bill debated by MPs for the first time 

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said the proposals brought forward by Home Secretary Priti Patel were ‘not fair’ and ‘not in the national interest’, adding: ‘That’s because they are deeming people who are low-skilled to be unwelcome in this country.’

Mr Thomas-Symonds said as a result the Immigration Bill poses a ‘threat’ to the health service and care sector. 

‘We have 180,000 EU nationals who are here, who are frankly helping to keep our services going,’ he told the programme,’ he said. 

‘There are other workers in other sectors – retail workers for example – all of whom the Government wants to send out a message to them with their new immigration system that they are low-skilled.

‘I do not think it is right to be clapping our frontline workers and then today be sending out a signal that they are unskilled and unwelcome in the country. It is not fair and it is not in the national interest.’

The SNP’s Stuart McDonald MP said ‘instead of recognising’ the contribution of migrant workers during the coronavirus outbreak and changing the Bill, the Government is ‘content to cut off this crucial route for workers at a time when the UK needs them most’.  

But Ms Patel said the new system will be ‘firmer, fairer and simpler’ than current arrangements. 

She said: ‘This historic piece of legislation gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country.

‘Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler.

‘It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.’

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said work is still ongoing on the specifics of the new immigration system.        

‘In relation to immigration, the Home Secretary has commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on what occupations should be included in the shortage occupation list under the new system,’ the spokesman said. 

‘The MAC has issued a call for evidence and will deliver its advice by the end of September 2020.’ 

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons this evening. 

It is the first of a number of stages which legislation must clear before it becomes law. 

The passage of the Bill is ultimately a formality because of the Government’s large majority.