Priti Patel is set to announce a new five-year visa for refugees fleeing war, reserved for those who can show proof they have the skills to fill jobs in the UK that are suffering a shortage of workers.
The home secretary will next week reveal a new displaced talent mobility scheme, offering refuge to highly skilled people currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, under plans first reported by The Times.
People who have fled conflict in Syria, Gaza and Iraq will be eligible for the pilot scheme, which will initially just cover 100 refugees and their families, granting them a skilled work visa that allows sanctuary in the UK for up to five years.
Under Patel’s strict points-based criteria for the scheme, refugees will need to provide evidence that they possess the skills required for jobs on the UK’s list of occupation shortages – including engineers, care workers, nurses, IT workers, architects and vets.
The new programme is reportedly modelled on similar skilled migration schemes in Australia and Canada, where temporary visas can often represent the first step towards permanent migration for those seeking refuge.
Patel’s Home Office has said the new scheme will be in addition to other resettlement routes for refugees entering the UK.
However, the UK recently ditched a commitment made two years ago to resettle around 5000 refugees a year in the UK, in a scheme that only started in February this year.
Instead, the Home Office scrapped this target figure in March and announced no new figure for its new plans for UK immigration.
On Monday, MPs will debate and vote on the new Nationality and Borders Bill – which will bring a landmark overhaul of the UK’s asylum system into legislation.
Patel is expected to tell parliament: “The British people have always been generous to refugees. This is a source of great national pride and will never change.
“Part of our firm but fair approach is to strengthen the safe and legal ways in which people can enter the UK. And I can announce that this government will take action to help those displaced by conflict and violence access our global points-based system.
“We will work with the charity Talent Beyond Boundaries and other partners on a pilot project to enable more talented and skilled people who have had to flee their homes, to safely and legally come to the UK and contribute to our country. This country does right by those in need.”
But humanitarian campaigners have warned the new points-based scheme prioritises skills over the much-needed safe asylum of refugees.
“A scheme that supports refugees to rebuild their lives in the UK is to be welcomed but this is a tiny drop in the ocean in the provision of safe routes for people fleeing war, terror and oppression,” Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told The Times.
“Without a long-term plan to resettle tens of thousands of people in need of safety this government’s commitment will continue to ring hollow.”
The government is working with charities including Talent Beyond Boundaries, who helped create the Australian and Canadian schemes, on the new pilot programme.
It comes after a group of Conservative MPs, including ex-immigration minister Caroline Nokes and MPs David Simmonds and Tim Farron, signed a statement on Wednesday urging Priti Patel to put a number on the UK’s commitment to resettling refugees, ahead of the debate in parliament on Monday.
“Given the polarised nature that public debate can take we will work for unity rather than hostility within our communities,” the statement said.
“In order for safe routes to have the desired effect of preventing people from making dangerous journeys, it is necessary to have sufficient ambition about the overall number of people able to access the routes provided.”
“The existing safe routes should be maintained and not reduced,” the statement added.