The Government has commissioned an in-depth report into how immigration will be managed after Brexit.
Home secretary Amber Rudd has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to carry out a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of UK migrants and the impact of a drastic cut in numbers.
Rudd said this would be a “major step in ensuring we create a system that works in the best interests of the country”.
The committee will consider the regional distribution of EU migration, which sectors are most reliant on it, and the role of temporary and seasonal workers.
The post-Brexit immigration report will also look at how migrant work benefits the UK, its impact on competitiveness, and whether or not there would be benefits to offering special dispensation for highly-skilled migrants.
The Conservatives have historically promised to bring total net migration – the difference between the number of people moving to the UK and the number leaving – from the EU and the rest of the world to below 100,000.
It was 248,000 last year, down 25% from 2015, and many industry bodies have raised concerns that reduced migration will lead to skills shortages across a number of industries.
A survey by the CIPD recently found that almost three-quarters of HR professionals think competition for skills will increase over the next three years due to the decision to leave the EU.
Last month’s Queen’s Speech included an Immigration Bill but did not give any further clues to the full details of movement of labour after 2019, although the Government has suggested that the Repeal Bill, which formally ends the UK’s legal ties with the EU, will lead to no immediate changes to workers’ rights.
Announcing the report, Rudd added: “We will ensure we continue to attract those who benefit us economically, socially and culturally.
“But, at the same time, our new immigration system will give us control of the volume of people coming here – giving the public confidence we are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK and helping us to bring down net migration to sustainable levels.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said the report had come a year too late.
He said: “This will do nothing to reassure the hospitals that are already seeing record numbers of EU nurses leaving, or the companies struggling to recruit the staff they need.
“The NHS, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months’ time.”
Manufacturers’ organisation EEF and the CBI called for an immediate resolution of the question of the status of EU nationals already living in the UK.
The CBI said that commissioning the report was a “sensible first step”, but added that employers needed answers “urgently”.
It said: “Workers from across Europe strengthen our businesses and help our public services run more smoothly – any new migration system should protect these benefits while restoring public confidence.”
EEF added: “Many manufacturers will see today’s announcement as a first step, with the Government for the first time acknowledging that future migration changes will be implemented in a measured way over a period of years.”