Wales politics

Welsh quota for EU migrants proposed post-Brexit

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Media captionCarwyn Jones: EU migration keeps Welsh workers in jobs

Wales should be given a quota of EU migrants if numbers are restricted after Brexit, the Welsh Government has said.

Ministers in Cardiff have set out their proposals for how immigration should work when the UK leaves the EU.

Although they would prefer to allow migration to continue for those with a job, a government paper demands a say if restrictions are introduced.

The Welsh Tories said the first minister should focus on his day job.

It comes after a leaked Home Office plan showed the UK government was examining proposals that aimed to cut the number of unskilled workers from the EU.

EU citizens are currently free to live and work in the UK without a permit.

On Thursday, the Welsh Government published a paper on what it thinks should happen to the migration system, which is out of its control and is the responsibility of the UK government.

The Welsh Government's preferred option - as outlined earlier in the year - is for migration from the EU to be "more closely linked to work", allowing people to come to the UK if they have a prior job offer or to seek employment if they have a "real prospect of finding a job quickly".

It opposes the UK government's aim of reducing migration to an "arbitrary target", arguing it risks the sustainability of key economic sectors and the delivery of public services.

Image copyright PA

Although not its preferred option, the Welsh Government said ministers would be "minded" to press for a specific Welsh quota if "quantitative limits on migration" were introduced.

"If the UK decides to adopt an immigration approach which favours specific sectors at a UK level, we believe that this could severely disadvantage Wales by making it very difficult to recruit to sectors where we currently have a high demand for migrant workers," the paper said.

If this was to happen, the paper said the Welsh Government should be given a "stronger role in determining how future migration to Wales would be managed" to ensure "Wales' key sectors, public services and universities can continue to recruit from Europe".

However, it added there was a "clear argument for ensuring that migration to the UK from EEA [European Economic Area] countries and Switzerland is as easy as possible".

The paper also said the exploitation of low paid workers needed to be tackled through strong enforcement of existing legislation.

The Welsh Government said there were about 80,000 EEA and Swiss citizens living in Wales, about 30,000 of whom arrived less than five years ago.

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Image caption The health service has been raised as one area that relies on non-UK workers

First Minister Carwyn Jones told BBC Radio Wales a Welsh quota was "not his first preference", but would be necessary if the UK government introduced its own quotas based on sectors of the economy.

He said he favoured allowing EU nationals a six month period to come to the UK to look for work.

"It's very close to what Norway does, and Norway has access to the single market on that basis, so we know that this is something that has been accepted in the past," he said.

On a Welsh quota for immigration, he said: "It sounds unusual, but it does happen in other countries, it happens in Canada for example where they have, as they put it, regional quotas."

"We could find ourselves in a situation where we can't recruit doctors because of an artificial quota.

"We need to make sure, if that's what they want to do, that we are able to recruit the people we need for the Welsh economy."

'Pointless intervention'

A spokesman for Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies said: "Whilst it is good to see the first minister engaging constructively on Brexit for a change, he must not forget that his day job is about making sure that public services run smoothly and, instead of obsessing over areas which are not devolved, we would prefer to see him working on bringing waiting times down and improving exam results."

Brecon and Radnorshire Conservative MP Chris Davies accused Mr Jones of making a "pointless intervention".

He asked: "Is Carwyn proposing that Wales will have a separate immigration policy to that of England? Is he seriously suggesting passport checks on Offa's Dyke?"

Plaid Cymru Brexit spokesman Steffan Lewis said: "Migration into Wales must strike a balance between addressing the skills gap in key areas such as the NHS while serving the interests of our economy and communities."

UKIP's assembly group leader Neil Hamilton claimed Mr Jones and Welsh Labour had "never fully accepted that Wales voted for Brexit".

"A separate immigration system for Wales is just another Labour ruse to overturn the referendum result - a back-door method of blocking UK immigration control," he added.

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