Priti Patel says new programme will allow more ‘talented and skilled people’ who have had to flee their homes to come to UK and ‘contribute to the country’
The Home Office has been accused of prioritising skills over safety after it announced a new scheme to resettle only “skilled” refugees, after having recently scrapped its commitment on general refugee resettlement.
On Monday, as the controversial new Nationality and Borders Bill returns to parliament for its second reading, home secretary Priti Patel will announce a new pilot scheme to help highly-skilled people who have been forced to flee their homes get a UK work visa.
The programme is set to focus on industries where there are shortages, such as engineering and IT.
The Home Office said the new route was “in addition” to the UK’s resettlement routes for refugees in need of protection – but campaigners point out that the department recently scrapped a numerical commitment under the UK Resettlement Scheme.
Two years ago, the then home secretary Sajid Javid said this scheme, which started in February 2021, would resettle in the region of 5,000 refugees in its first year.
However, the Home Office has scrapped this target, saying that its new immigration plans, announced in March, would “maintain its long-term commitment to resettle refugees from around the globe” – but without a specific number or timeframe.
Ms Patel is expected to tell parliament on Monday: “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, including through the UK Resettlement Scheme. This country does right by those in need.”
The Home Office is to 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 the country”, the home secretary will say.
Matthew Saltmarsh, of the UNHCR, said the organisation “welcomed” the scheme as it appeared to provide “flexibility and integration support” to refugees – but highlighted the importance of also “maintaining and expanding protection-led pathways”.
“The Home Office’s partners in resettlement do not yet know how many places the UK will offer for resettlement in coming years. UNHCR hopes the UK will swiftly provide clarity on that and offer at least as many places annually as it did under its Syria programme, now closed,” he added.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “This work visa scheme is being falsely sold by the Home Office as refugee resettlement and paraded as a flimsy fig leaf to hide the horrors in their anti-refugee bill.
“Regardless of the scheme’s merits, refugee resettlement is based on a person’s need for protection and not how many employability points they score.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said that while any scheme supporting refugees was welcome, it was a “tiny drop in the ocean” in the provision of safe routes for people fleeing war, terror and oppression.
It comes after Tory MPs called on the Home Office to commit to welcoming a specific number of refugees under its resettlement programme in line with international norms after it scrapped the previously pledged target.
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes and Tory MP David Simmonds were among politicians who have signed a statement this week stating that in order to prevent people from making dangerous journeys, it was necessary for ministers to have “sufficient ambition about the overall number of people able to access the routes provided”.