In one of the first major signs of change for a post-Brexit UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration announced Wednesday that Britain would no longer admit unskilled migrants who don’t speak English into the country.
In the announcement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that implementing the new policy would mean bringing “the brightest and best from around the world” to the United Kingdom, marking a “historic moment for the whole country.”
The policy is set to go into effect next January, and it is intended to move Britain away from a reliance on “low-skilled” immigrants. The hope is that British companies, faced with the loss of cheap foreign labor, will focus their efforts on advancing technology and automation, bringing down costs without sacrificing the country’s demographics. Patel said it was important for businesses to look for foreign migrants like “scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled workers.”
“We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labor from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation,” she said.
In addition to encouraging companies to invest in technology, Patel told the media that she wanted to see British businesses turn away from unskilled foreign labor and recruit British-born citizens into the workplace. She said that these companies, with training and determination, could easily help British citizens “up their skills and make their skills relevant” to a changing marketplace.
The new policy is an important response to the 2016 Brexit vote, which was largely driven by concerns over foreign migration.
“Immigration was one of the driving forces behind the 2016 Brexit referendum,” notes The New York Times. “And after that vote, immigration from within continental Europe dropped. But with more migrants now coming to Britain from outside the European Union than from within the bloc, the Conservative government has continually failed to make good on its promises to cut net migration levels.”
In her statement, Patel confirmed that the bottom line interest was in cutting net migration levels to Britain at a time when wages are stagnating and productivity rates have stalled.
“We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new U.K. points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down,” she announced.
The new policy was met with expected opposition from the Labour Party and corporate industry, but it was also viewed skeptically by Nigel Farage, the man who did more than anyone to push the country to leave the European Union in the first place.
In an interview with Sky News this week, Farage warned that without specific caps, the new policy could potentially mean “more immigration, not less.”