The government's immigration bill, described as a potential "hammer-blow" for the hospitality industry, has gained initial approval from MPs despite attracting strong opposition.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) bill, which the government plans to introduce from January 2021, looks to repeal EU freedom of movement and introduce a points-based system that will favour ‘high-skilled' workers who have a job offer with a minimum salary of £25,600 from a sponsored employer.
Home secretary Priti Patel, who introduced the bill for its second reading in the House of Commons, told MPs it would build a "brighter future". She said it would pave the way for a "high-wage, high-skill" economy, attracting the "very best talent from around the globe" and boosting the UK's economy.
She said the government would be working with employers and local governments "every step of the way" to make the new system a success. She added: "We promised the British people we would end free movement and take back our borders."
Despite Patel claiming the "firmer, fairer" points-based immigration bill would deliver a system "where everyone is treated equally", based on the "skills they have to offer and not where they come from", the bill has attracted strong opposition.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour MP for Torfaen, said that introducing a salary threshold was a powerful message that anyone earning less was "unskilled and unwelcome in our country", calling the proposal "not fair" and "not in the national interest".
He said: "EU citizens are welcome and valued here. They have brought great benefits and made us a richer, more diverse society."
Stuart McDonald, SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, called it a "dreadful bill", that was "made worse by its appalling timing". He accused the Home Office of being "out of touch with reality and out of touch with public opinion".
"This is a rotten bill introduced with rotten timing that is beyond repair."
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow stressed that "lots of low-paid workers" had a "huge range of skills" and that if the coronavirus crisis had taught us anything, "it is the value of key workers, many of whom are immigrants".
She added: "When the applause dies we cannot return to business as usual. We understand that the world economy is about to fall off a cliff."
Rt Hon Diane Abbot, Labour MP Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said the bill was "bad in principle, bad in practise" and called it a "a slap in the face" for EU migrants.
The new employment criteria means that sponsored employees will need to meet 70 points in a system that prioritises high salaries and qualifications, with the Home Office estimating that 70% of the UK's current EU workforce would not meet the new requirements.
The bill will now go forward for further scrutiny.