Home Secretary Amber Rudd has sought to reassure businesses there will not be a “cliff edge” in terms of employing foreign workers post-Brexit.
She said the policy would be evidence-based and will take economic impact into account.
The CBI said businesses “urgently” needed to know what EU migration would look like, both in any “transitional” period after March 2019 and beyond.
Immigration was a hot topic of last year’s EU referendum campaign, and ministers have promised to “take back control” of the UK’s borders as they negotiate Brexit.
Although the UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, there has been increasing talk of a “transitional” (or “implementation”) stage of around two years to smooth the Brexit process.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Home Office minister Brandon Lewis said details of how the government would manage immigration after Brexit would be revealed in a white paper later this year, and that the immigration bill would go through Parliament in 2018.
The Home Secretary said an “implementation phase” would involve new EU workers registering their details when they come to the UK. She also said the government had promised an “extensive” consultation to listen to the views of businesses, unions and universities.
The Home Office has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to study the “economic and social costs and benefits of EU migration to the UK economy”, its impact on competitiveness, and whether there would be benefits to focusing migration on high-skilled jobs. It is due to report back by September 2018 – six months before Brexit.
The home secretary said: “We will ensure we continue to attract those who benefit us economically, socially and culturally.
“But, at the same time, our new immigration system will give us control of the volume of people coming here – giving the public confidence we are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK and helping us to bring down net migration to sustainable levels.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was not aware of the report that has been commissioned, adding that immigration had been “fantastic for the energy and dynamism of the economy” but “that doesn’t mean that you can’t control it”.
For Labour, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said there was “far too much heat and not enough light about immigration, so any truly objective and well-informed analysis must be welcome”.
But she raised concerns about the timescale for the Migration Advisory Committee report: “Six months before Brexit will not be enough time to structure a new immigration system.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said the move would “do nothing to reassure the hospitals that are already seeing record numbers of EU nurses leaving, or the companies struggling to recruit the staff they need”.
“The NHS, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months’ time,” he added.
The CBI said commissioning the report was a “sensible first step”, adding: “Workers from across Europe strengthen our businesses and help our public services run more smoothly – any new migration system should protect these benefits while restoring public confidence.”
Manufacturers’ organisation EEF said the migration committee was “best placed” to advise on what EU migration should look like after Brexit.
Both EEF and the CBI called for an immediate resolution of the question of the status of EU nationals already living in the UK.
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