British Home Secretary Priti Patel is set to announce a new pilot five-year visa scheme favouring high-skilled refugees in a move that has been condemned by critics for creating a system that could make it harder for those fleeing dangerous environments from getting a UK work visa.
Patel will introduce the scheme as part of the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, which will be read for the second time to parliament on Monday.
Up to 100 people in Jordan and Lebanon will be given the chance of sponsorship by a UK employer, and will be aided in applying for a visa under the UK’s immigration system, according to plans first reported by The Times.
Those from Syria, Gaza and Iraq will also be eligible to apply for a work visa, which will allow them to stay in the UK for up to five years, if they possess specific skills required for jobs on the UK’s approved list.
This includes engineers, care workers, nurses, IT workers, vets and architects.
The news follows a set of measures implemented by the Home Office, which essentially makes it difficult for refugees to resettle in the UK, including going back on a commitment it made two years ago to resettle 5,000 refugees.
The Home Office cancelled the target in March and hasn’t released new numbers.
"The British people have always been generous to refugees. This is a source of great national pride and will never change," Patel said.
"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," she said.
"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."
However Patel's scheme has quickly come under fire.
"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."
Lawyers have slammed the UK government's Borders Bill as threatening the "pillars of our democracy".
The Nationality and Borders Bill intends to overhaul the UK immigration system by penalising people who "knowingly arrive in the UK without permission", including as refugees fleeing persecution, and allows the government to move asylum seekers to a "safe country" while their claim is being processed.
It also gives UK Home Secretary Priti Patel powers to suspend or delay visas to applicants from countries that do no "cooperate" under the new immigration system, according to reports.
The UK government has called the bill "fair but firm".
Law Society President Stephaine Boyce slammed the proposal as threatening "the country's reputation for justice and fairness", in a statement posted by The Law Society.
New figures obtained by the Refugee Council say that waiting lists are nine times longer than they were a decade ago.
The New Arab