The UK should end special access for EU citizens and introduce migration laws that focus on attracting skilled workers, the UK government’s advisory committee on migration recommended in a new report published on Tuesday (18 September).
Set up in 2016 by then Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked with assessing the impact of EU migration on the UK’s labour market and future immigration policies after it leaves the EU in March 2019.
“If immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens,” the MAC report contends.
It adds that the UK could follow the example of Canada, which had “an open, welcoming approach to migration but no free movement agreement with any other country”.
Many of the report’s conclusions are expected to be implemented by Theresa May’s government in its repeatedly delayed Immigration Bill, scheduled for this autumn and expected to set out the UK’s rules on migration after it leaves the EU. It is also likely to be welcomed by those who want the UK to use Brexit to tighten immigration controls.
May’s government has repeatedly stated that freedom of movement, one of the fundamental tenets of the EU’s single market, will end after the UK leaves the bloc.
“The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration. With free movement, there can be no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents,” the report states.
Dom Hallas, the executive director of The Coalition for a Digital Economy, said the report “confirms what the tech startup community already knows – high-skilled immigration is beneficial to productivity and innovation in the UK. Only an open approach to migration can ensure this continues”.
“The test now for the government is to keep the UK attractive to high-skilled workers in a post-Brexit world. For that, we need the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy in the visa system.”
The MAC report also recommends that seasonal workers for the agriculture sector should be the only scheme for lower-skilled workers in the UK, a proposal that is likely to be vigorously opposed by many in the business community.
Ian Wright, the chief executive of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, warned that the MAC report would “not offer our industry the flexibility needed to employ reactively.”
However, the MAC report disproves the claims made by some in the Leave campaign that EU migrants were dampening wage growth for UK nationals, stating that “the existing evidence and the analysis we present in the report suggests that migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK- born workers.”
“We found some evidence suggesting that lower-skilled workers face a negative impact while higher-skilled workers benefit, however, the magnitude of the impacts are generally small.”
It also calls for the government’s annual 100,000 cap on net migration to be scrapped.
Migration was a central issue in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. Prior to the campaign, then Prime Minister David Cameron was rebuffed by other EU leaders when he attempted to curb the rights of EU migrants to access welfare benefits in the UK.
The report also adds that migrants from the EU pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits from the UK state, pointing out that “the positive net contribution to the public finances is larger for EU13+ migrants than for NMS (non-member state) migrants”.
“A more selective approach to EEA migration, which is not available under free movement, could provide an even more positive impact of migration on the public finances,” it adds.