EU criminals with more than a year in jail will be banned from Britain under tough new immigration rules

Charles Hymas
·6-min read
Home Secretary Priti Patel updates MPs in the House of Commons, London - PA
Home Secretary Priti Patel updates MPs in the House of Commons, London - PA

Foreign criminals sentenced to more than a year in jail will be banned from Britain under new immigration rules.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will on Monday set out details of the points-based system which will replace freedom of movement from January 1.

The 130-page document will abolish the route into the UK for unskilled migrants and instead award points to applicants if they have skilled job offers, speak English and meet minimum salary thresholds.

The new system will mean that EU citizens, including criminals, will be treated in the same way as migrants from the rest of the world with businesses expected to do more to recruit British workers and end their reliance on cheap foreign labour.

And it will give the Government powers to exclude or deport any foreign criminal who has received a prison sentence of more than a year.

Border Force and immigration officials will also be able to bar foreign migrants found guilty of serious harm even if they have been sentenced to less than a year in jail as well as persistent offenders such as prolific thieves, burglars and pickpockets.

Anyone seeking to enter Britain who is judged “not conducive to the public good” could also be barred under the new criminality rules, a clause that will allow ministers to reject applications from hate preachers or others who might stir up social tensions.

“Because of our EU membership, we have been powerless to stop criminals coming in,” said a source. “It’s about applying UK criminality thresholds to everyone.”

The rules will replace a 2004 EU directive, which ministers believe is not sufficiently strict or specific and has been criticised for preventing the exclusion and deportation of foreign criminals.

Home Office figures show the number of deportation orders served on foreign criminals has dropped by nearly 2,000 – from 5,218 in 2015 to 3,225 last year amid legal challenges over human rights and countries refusing to take them back.

The current EU definition only allows convicted criminals from the EU to be excluded on a case-by-case basis if they present “a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society.”

It also explicitly says “previous criminal convictions shall not in themselves constitute grounds” for excluding or removing EU citizens.

The moves were welcomed by Mark Francois MP, chair of the Conservative's European Research Group, who said: “One of the advantages of leaving the EU is that it allows us to take back control of our own borders, as approved by Parliament. “This also means we can bar people who may be a danger to public safety from coming here. The Home Secretary should be commended for having progressed this rapidly and thus fulfilling one of the commitments in the Conservative party’s general election manifesto.”

Dr Ben Greening, executive director of Migration Watch, welcomed more consistent rules for deporting foreign criminals but warned: “It is also vital that the provisions once enacted are followed with effective enforcement. Worryingly this has become much too feeble in recent years."

The points-based immigration system was a centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto and aims to force businesses to end their reliance on cheap low-skilled migrants and recruit more British workers - just as unemployment is set to rise after Covid.

Skilled EU and non-EU migrants will have to earn 70 points to be eligible to work in the UK.

50 of those points have to be gained by having a job offer from an approved employer, speaking English and from the prospective job being at the skill level of A-level or above. The remaining 20 points can come from a variety of categories, where skills or qualifications can be "traded" for points to meet the required 70.

Jobs in shortage occupations in the key sectors like the NHS and social care, designated by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), will also entitle applicants to a further “tradeable” 20 points.

Skilled jobs with salaries of £25,599 or above can earn 20 points, as will a doctorate in a science, technical, engineering or mathematical subject.

On Sunday Ms Patel announced a new “health and care visa”, entitling migrant workers to fast-track, cut-price permission to take up job offers and support to move here with their families.

The Home Secretary had previously said it would be an NHS visa only, sparking protests that care workers – among the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic – would be shut out.

It will take effect before the points system before being integrated into it, which will mean low-paid care workers are unlikely to meet the points criteria although those with higher qualifications could.

The Government document is expected to detail the skilled jobs, the shortage occupations and how the “tradeable” extra points system and salary thresholds will work.

Higher earners such as pilots or engineers will have higher salary thresholds and will be expected to earn up to £60,000 to ensure they do not undercut the wages of those already working in the UK.

New entrants to jobs - generally aged under 26 - will be able to claim a “discounted” salary threshold up to 30 per cent below the £25,600.

The new system has led to warnings that sectors like social care could suffer serious shortages. However, ministers want to avoid “carve-outs” for unskilled jobs.

By contrast, there will be no caps on the numbers of skilled workers.

Highly-skilled workers - such as scientists and academics rated as “global talent” and musicians and artists - will be the only groups entitled to enter the UK without a job offer if they have the required points and are sponsored by a relevant professional body. Their numbers will be capped.

Foreign students will be free to continue to take up places at universities and will be granted two years’ grace after graduation to stay in the UK and bring their skills to the British economy. EU citizens will be able to visit the UK on six-month visitor visas.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The security of UK citizens is our top priority. We regularly review the criminality framework rules to ensure we deliver against that priority. We have been clear that all migrants will need to comply with the UK’s strict criminality rules.”

Ms Patel said the changes would “restore trust in the immigration system and deliver a new fairer, firmer, skills-led system from 1 January 2021.”

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