EU nationals should be subject to the same rules as migrants from the rest of the world after free movement ceases to apply in the UK, according to a Government-commissioned report.
The long-awaited study also concluded that the post-Brexit immigration system should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to come to the country.
But it said access to Britain’s jobs market should be restricted for lower-skilled migrants.
Ministers asked experts for in-depth analysis on migration from the European Economic Area (EEA) in July last year.
The findings, published on Tuesday, will inform the Government’s decisions on proposed new immigration rules for after the post-exit implementation period finishes at the end of 2020.
The Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) final report said that, if immigration is not part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future system in isolation, there should be no preference given to EU citizens.
It said: “A migrant’s impact depends on factors such as their skills, employment, age and use of public services, and not fundamentally on their nationality.”
The committee emphasised that it was not expressing a view on whether immigration should be part of the negotiations.
MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning said a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens would mean an end to free movement.
But he noted that this would not make the UK unusual, citing Canada’s approach as an example.
Prof Manning added: “The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration.”
The review suggested the future immigration policy should favour high-skilled workers, as there is clear evidence they bring benefits to the UK’s public finances, innovation and productivity.
It recommended ministers scrap an annual cap of 20,700 on the number of visas available under the Tier 2 skilled work scheme, and open up the route to “medium-skilled” jobs.
But in a finding it acknowledged would attract opposition from some sectors, the MAC concluded that there is no need for a specific migration route for low-skilled work, with the possible exception of a seasonal agricultural scheme.
It said this would not mean there is no supply of low-skilled migrant workers, stating that most of the existing stock would remain and there would likely be a continued flow through family migration or the existing youth mobility scheme.
Prof Manning said: “Our recommendations to the Government on a future work immigration system post-implementation period are designed to benefit the resident UK population.”
The 132-page report assessed the impact of EEA migration on a number of areas including the labour market, productivity, public services and communities.
It found that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment outcomes of the UK-born workforce, while migration is not a “major determinate” of the wages of UK-born workers.
It also said:
– Analysis suggests migration has increased house prices but the impact cannot be seen in isolation from other government policies;
– Research shows EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits;
– There is no evidence to suggest migrants are linked to any increases in crime, nor any evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare or the educational attainment of UK-born children.
Prof Manning said: “The small overall impacts mean that EEA migration as a whole has had neither the large negative effects claimed by some nor the clear benefits claimed by others.”
Professor Jonathan Portes, senior fellow at The UK In A Changing Europe, said: “Since 2010, many aspects of UK immigration policy have been based not on analysis and evidence but on unpleasant and damaging nativism.
“This report provides an opportunity for our politicians to reverse that, if they have the courage to take it.”
Migration Watch UK chairman Lord Green of Deddington argued the report “seems blind to the impact of high levels of EU immigration on many communities in this country”.
He added: “These proposals would permit continued high levels of immigration, including those with medium skills from all over the world.”
Matthew Fell, policy director at business organisation the CBI, backed the proposal to scrap the Tier 2 cap but warned plans for low-skilled workers are “inadequate” and risk “damaging labour shortages”.
The Home Office said it will carefully consider the recommendations before setting out further details on the UK’s future immigration system.
A spokesman said: “After we leave the EU, we will take back control of our borders and put in place an immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.
“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.”