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Theresa May unveils new UK immigration system

The plan is designed to cut low-skilled migration to Britain from the European Union.

BIRMINGHAM, England — Theresa May has pledged to overhaul Britain’s immigration system, ending freedom of movement and replacing it with a new visa regime that treats EU citizens no differently to those from elsewhere in the world, No. 10 Downing Street said Monday evening.

In a statement, the U.K. prime minister said a single new system would be introduced to reduce low-skilled immigration from the EU.
In an interview Tuesday morning, she said: “Immigration rules are not part of our discussions with EU [on Brexit].” But she said that trade talks with the EU would involve negotiations about future “mobility” for EU citizens.

“The question of business travel, of tourism will be part of negotiations. We’ve put forward a proposal which is based on a reciprocal arrangement. We’re looking to negotiate movement of people for those purposes,” she told the BBC’s Today Program.

But May was adamant that the government would decide who is able to come to the U.K. “It’s the first time we can do this across the board. We’ll be ending free movement,” she said.

A long-standing home secretary before she became prime minister in 2016, May has long advocated tighter restrictions on immigration. She is one of the Conservative Party’s most vocal supporters of a target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands a year, something that dates back to her predecessor David Cameron’s 2010 manifesto, though a target that’s been consistently missed.

The announcement, though widely expected in both in the U.K. and in Brussels, risks further antagonizing EU leaders ahead of a crucial final few months of Brexit negotiations. The plan will also likely face criticism from those who argue the U.K. should use the immigration system to negotiate preferential trade deals once it has left the European Union.

According to the statement, the U.K. will introduce new “e-gate visa checks” for tourists and business travelers coming to the country for short stay trips from “low risk” countries.

In words released alongside the statement, May said: “Two years ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union and take back control of our borders. When we leave we will bring in a new immigration system that ends freedom of movement once and for all. For the first time in decades, it will be this country that controls and chooses who we want to come here.”

“It will be a skills-based system where it is workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from. It will be a system that looks across the globe and attracts the people with the skills we need,” she said. “Crucially it will be fair to ordinary working people. For too long people have felt they have been ignored on immigration and that politicians have not taken their concerns seriously enough.”

An official government white paper detailing how the new system will work will be published later this fall, ahead of a formal Immigration Bill next year, according to the statement. Those wanting to stay in the U.K. long term will have to prove they have the skills to “meet Britain’s needs.”

“Applicants will need to meet a minimum salary threshold to ensure they are not competing for jobs that could otherwise be recruited in the U.K.,” the press release said. “Successful applicants for high-skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family but only if sponsored by their future employers.”

The new system will not include a cap on student visas.

Authors: Tom McTague