The government plans to restrict the free movement of labour immediately after Brexit, according to a Home Office document leaked to the Guardian newspaper.
The paper states that the government will also introduce restrictions to deter all but highly-skilled EU workers and drive down the number of lower-skilled EU migrants by offering them residency for a maximum of just two years. Access to labour in industries without skills shortages may be curbed.
The Telegraph has reported that the document contains plans for low-skilled workers to be required to be paid a minimum of £157 per week to prove they could support themselves. Anyone wanting to bring their spouse to the UK would need to earn at least £18,600 a year, in line with current rules for non-EU nationals.
The document also outlines plans for 'right to work' checks, to be carried out by employers. Criminal sanctions would possibly be imposed against companies and individuals where illegal working was discovered.
The paper states that employers should be looking to UK candidates when recruiting. “Wherever possible, UK employers should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour... ensuring preference in the job market is given to resident workers,” it states. “To be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but make existing residents better off.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady criticised the plans. “They would do nothing to tackle falling living standards and insecure jobs,” she said. “These plans would create an underground economy; encouraging bad bosses to exploit migrants and undercut decent employers offering good jobs. The government must crack down on bad jobs and make sure work is fairer for everyone.”
However, Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch, said the document's thinking was "excellent news".
"Uncontrolled migration from the EU simply cannot be allowed to continue," he said. "These proposals rightly focus on low-skilled migration and by doing so could reduce net migration from the EU by 100,000 a year over time. This would be an important step to achieving the government's immigration target."
Rachel Harvey, business immigration specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said that employers might find these plans worrying. “The information in the leaked document appears to provide confirmation about the shape of the government’s immigration policy post-Brexit: a clamp down on EU migration and priority given to British workers," she said.
“For employers that currently utilise a large proportion of low-skilled EU labour, the plans will be worrying. Many industries, such as food, hospitality and agriculture, will find that they no longer have an available pool of low-skilled EU workers to tap into and must change their recruitment strategies accordingly.
Harvey advised employers to start preparing now. “If employers are going to be required to prioritise British workers, they must start preparing now to avoid being hit by a drastic drop-off in available labour in 2019.
“Alongside uncertainties over access to labour, many employers may be hit with additional administrative burdens, in particular involving right-to-work checks. A two-year time limit imposed on low-skilled workers will mean that employers must make extra efforts to conduct regular reviews. Employment circumstances could change and some workers could find that they are no longer allowed to stay in the UK and their employment is terminated."
According to the Office for National Statistics 250,000 EU migrants arrived in the UK in 2016, while 117,000 left the country. Downing Street has so far declined to comment on the report.