The government will seek to repeal freedom of movement rules after Brexit when an updated immigration bill goes before parliament on Monday.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will see a points-based immigration system supersede freedom of movement rules for EU citizens.
The bill will also relax immigration rules to support those dubbed ‘key workers’ during the coronavirus pandemic.
The government’s list of critical workers includes people in the food production and processing industry, such as delivery drivers, those working in waste disposal and more.
Satbir Singh, chief executive of the immigration charity Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, called for further changes and said: ‘The fight against Covid-19 has shown us all just how much our survival and wellbeing depends on our key workers.
‘So many of them have come from other countries and help keep this one running. Bus drivers and lorry drivers, care workers and shop workers, nurses and cleaners – they are not ‘unskilled’ or unwelcome, they are the backbone of our country and they deserve the security of knowing that this place can be their home too.’
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has said Labour cannot support an Immigration Bill that is a ‘threat’ to the health and social care sector, and suggested it was double standards towards key workers helping the UK through the coronavirus outbreak.
He said: ‘It is rank hypocrisy towards our NHS and care workers – over 180,000 in England and Wales alone – to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday.
‘The home secretary has been invisible throughout this crisis – and now her first major intervention is a Bill that will make workers in the NHS and the care sector feel unwelcome in this country, as well as labelling retail workers, carers, local government workers, refuse collectors, and many more as ‘low skilled’ – the very same workers who have been keeping this country running throughout the crisis.
‘This Bill creates a threat to our national interest. It risks the NHS not being able to fill the desperately needed roles for trained nurses and care home workers at the very moment when we rely on the NHS most.’
Ahead of the Bill’s return to the Commons, home secretary Priti Patel said the new system would be ‘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,’ she said.
This is the third attempt by a Conservative government to introduce the controversial bill into parliament. It was first voted down in December 2018 after Theresa May’s government failed to sway key MPs to back it and was scuppered earlier this year because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Under a points-based immigration system, new UK entrants seeking to reside in-country would only be able to stay if they meet a certain points threshold.
Points will be warded for specific requirements such as 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. Extra could be allocated if there was a shortage in a particular occupation.
The government hopes to enforce the legislation by the start of 2021.