Tough immigration laws could shut the door on 140,000 workers from the European Union and citizens from the continent may have to provide their fingerprints.
However, ministers are unable to estimate the overall level of future migration – after relaxing salary and skills rules for non-EU migrants – despite insisting they “will reduce” it.
Australia awards points for age, qualifications and work experience, allowing entry without a job offer – but, in the UK, only arrivals with a PhD, or in a shortage profession, will skirt the salary floor, and all but the most talented must have a job to go to.
The plans have already been branded “a disaster” by social care leaders, fearing a deepening recruitment crisis, although the social care sector could yet be added to the shortage list.
Ministers have also rejected any regional variation in the proposed £25,600 floor, despite business leaders warning of problems for companies in poorer parts of the UK.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, hailed the shake-up as “a historic moment for the whole country”, bringing immigration policy back under UK control “for the first time in decades”.
“It will mean that we will have a global immigration system that doesn't discriminate between EU and non-EU, and it’ll basically mean that the brightest and the best will be able to come to the United Kingdom to bring their real talents,” she said.
But Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “This isn’t an ‘Australian points-based system’, which is a meaningless government soundbite.
“It’s a salary threshold system, which will need to have so many exemptions, for the NHS, for social care and many parts of the private sector, that it will be meaningless.”
The new system, to be introduced in January – and still described by the Home Office as “points-based” – will:
* Require most migrants, from inside or outside the EU, to have a job offer worth £25,600 – lower than the £30,000 proposed under Theresa May’s premiership.
* Require them to speak English to “B1” level, enabling someone to, for example, open a bank account, or cope with “most situations” at home, work or leisure.
* Allow workers with PhDs, or in shortage occupations – the NHS, but also vets, web designers and architects, for example – to enter with a salary as low as £20,480.
* Rule out a route for low-skilled migrants, other than seasonal workers, arguing there are already huge numbers of EU citizens and 170,000 recently-arrived non-EU citizens for such jobs.
* Lower the skill level required to A-level, rather than graduate, standard, although migrants must still earn the salary threshold.
* Include students, who must be able “to support themselves”, but will be able to stay on in the UK and work for two years after graduation.
* Charge migrants around £1,200 for a work visa, or £900 in a shortage occupation – the same fee as paid by non-EU migrants currently.
The document says migrants will apply for visas online, with EU citizens issued with an e-visa while their family members, and workers from outside the EU, will continue to be given “physical evidence”.
It states: “Most EU citizens will enrol facial biometrics using smartphone self-enrolment: fingerprints will not initially be required”.
The Independent understands fingerprint-taking – first mooted in 2017 and the requirement for non-EU migrants, but thought to have been dropped – will be brought in later, if deemed necessary.
Around 70 per cent of the current 200,000 EU migrants coming to the UK each year are expected to be excluded by the new rules, officials believe, which would mean around 140,000.
The document points to the urgency of the shake-up, with little more than 10 months to go to the end of the post-Brexit transition period.
“Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021,” it states.