A long-awaited government White Paper on plans for post-Brexit immigration law, to be published this autumn, was heavily trailed during Tory Party conference.
If the Tories have their way, it will be far from business as usual on travel and immigration between the UK, Europe and the rest of the world after January 2021.
New laws would establish a single immigration system. Migrants from the EU will be treated in the exact same way as non-EU migrants.
The system will favour so-called high-skills migrants, from wherever they come from in the world. The government has indicated that it will scrap the cap (currently 20,700) on the number of high-skill (non-EU) migrants entering the UK. And that it will review the £30,000 salary threshold on entrants. 76% of current EU migrants would not meet that threshold.
The government have said low-skilled migrants will be allowed into the UK in strictly limited numbers, e.g. farmers will be allowed to bring in labourers during the harvest season.
This may, say the government, be facilitated by the extension of the youth mobility scheme. Currently (low paid) young workers from a selected number of countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada are allowed to come to the UK to work for a limited period of time.
In addition the UK will bring in a US-style system where people from so-called safe countries (presumably including all of the EU) will be able to travel to the UK for short periods of time (e.g. for a holiday) only if they apply for a special authorisation.
In this way, background checks will be made in advance of travel on every non-UK citizen coming into the country. The US system was brought in in 2009 and added a layer of security checks that were not there before. In other words post-Brexit the UK will be similar to the US, a very tough border regimes.
EU politicians have responded negatively to these proposals.
UK citizens who want to work in the EU in the future will not like these proposals. It is likely that EU workers will still have some preferential treatment and UK workers in Europe likewise. But the government remains very vague on what that might be, or what it wants that to be. They have said they will negotiate to ensure student exchange schemes will continue.
Not all UK bosses like it either, because the implied restrictions on “low-skills” workers will impact on their business, especially construction, social care, hospitality and retails bosses.
The government has justified those restrictions on the premise that low skilled migrants drive down wages. But the Migration Advisory Committee report on which this policy was based does not justify that premise.
Inevitably these policies will lead to more scapegoating of migrants — the unjustifiable claim that migrants drive down wages has become common sense, even among some on the left.
Labour should be much clearer in its defence of migrants and refugees and could start by opposing these policies.
We need to keep up our arguments against Brexit and all it brings with it, in defence of free movement and its extension to workers around the globe.