EU workers coming to the UK should be given “no preference” for visas after Brexit, says a new report.
The Migration Advisory Committee also recommends that it should be easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the country.
It has called on the government to scrap a limit on highly-skilled workers altogether – currently 20,700 each year from non-EU countries.
The government has said it will “carefully consider” the proposals.
Labour backed the report, calling for an “end to discrimination” against non-EU migrants.
The report said there was no evidence that increased European migration has damaged life in the UK.
It concluded that EU migrants paid more in tax than they took in benefits, contributed more to the NHS workforce than the healthcare they accessed, and had no effect on crime rates.
Chair of the MAC, Professor Alan Manning, said the overall the impacts of EEA migration had not had the “big costs that some people claim”, but it had not had “big benefits” either.
The report said the fall in the value of the pound after the referendum vote probably raised prices by 1.7 per cent – a larger impact than the effect on wages and employment opportunities from the EU since 2004.
The MAC was asked to do the research in July 2017 by then Home Secretary Amber Rudd. It is thought it will shape the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
The BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, said Theresa May could begin to “sketch out” her post-Brexit immigration policy at October’s Conservative Party conference.
He said the report would increase pressure on the PM to not compromise over freedom of movement during the Brexit negotiations.
No ‘compelling reasons’
The report made 14 proposals after analysing the impact of migration from the European Economic Area (EEA), taking evidence from more than 400 businesses, industry bodies and government departments.
The committee said it did “not see compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules” for workers from the EEA.
It recommended “a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers”, adding: “Higher-skilled workers tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances.”
Who are the highly skilled workers?
Current policy is to allow 20,700 high-skilled workers into the UK each year.
They are granted a Tier 2 visa to work in the country.
Top priority is given to jobs on a “shortage occupation list” which can be found here.
- Mining engineers
- 3D computer animators
- Games designers
- Cyber security experts
- Emergency medicine consultants
- Paediatric consultants
The committee said it was “not convinced there needs to be a work route for low-skilled workers” from the EU to fill jobs in industries such as catering or hospitality.
It said some sectors would “complain vociferously”, but believed the number of existing low-skilled migrants would not change immediately.
The “possible exception” to this rule would be for seasonal agriculture, where 99% of the workers come from EU countries.
- Reality Check: Who are the low-skilled EU workers?
The government said it would listen to the report and put in an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The government is clear that EU citizens play an important and positive role in our economy and society and we want that to continue after we leave.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the UK’s immigration policy “needs to be based on our economic needs, while meeting our legal obligations and treating people fairly”.
“[This] means ending the discrimination against non-EU migrants, especially from the Commonwealth,” she added.
‘Less heat, more reflection’
By Dominic Casciani, BBC home affairs correspondent
The Migration Advisory Committee’s report is a massive piece of work and the caveats and cautions that it places around its findings show how fiendishly complicated the topic is.
While it says that EEA migrants put more into the economy than they take out, this masks considerable variations.
And the fall in the value of the pound since Brexit has had a greater overall effect on the wealth of the nation.
The MAC finds a link between rising migration and house prices, but then stresses that affordability is also linked to other government policies and planning woes in some areas.
So the sub-text of the report is that when it comes to migration, there needs to be less heat and more sober reflection.
It mostly brings benefits, says the MAC, but there are also consequences.
And the government needs to get better at understanding these, as it devises a post-Brexit immigration system.
The report comes as latest figures showed that net migration from the EU was at its lowest level since 2012 – with the number of EU citizens coming to look for work down by a third to 37,000 and overall net migration at 282,000.
The government wants to cut overall net migration to the tens of thousands.