Refugees fleeing war who have the skills to fill job shortages in the UK will be offered five-year visas under a plan to be announced next week.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, will unveil a new displaced talent mobility scheme, offering sanctuary to highly skilled refugees living in humanitarian camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
Under the pilot 100 refugees and their families will be given a skilled worker visa, which will allow them to stay in the UK for up to five years.
The scheme will be aimed at refugees who have fled violence and conflict in Syria, Iraq and Gaza. To qualify, they will need to show proof that they possess skills for jobs on the UK’s shortage occupation list, which includes nurses, care workers, engineers, IT workers, architects and vets.
The scheme is modelled on similar programmes in Australia and Canada. It will be in addition to new resettlement routes for refugees, which will be based on need rather than skills.
“It’s not so much changing the immigration system but helping people who already qualify for the existing immigration system,” a source said.
The announcement of the scheme comes ahead of MPs debating and voting on the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill on Monday, which will legislate for the biggest overhaul of Britain’s asylum system in a generation.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “Many refugees around the world actually have the skills to get work visas under the mainstream immigration system. But in practice it can be really difficult for skilled refugees to do this because the immigration system is bureaucratic and expensive, and refugees often don’t have good networks. So instead they end up navigating the chaotic asylum system or languishing for years, waiting to be resettled by the UN. The idea of programmes like this is to help skilled refugees get over those barriers and get a work visa. This initial pilot is very small, so it will be interesting to see whether it gets scaled up in the future.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “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. If this government is serious about strengthening safe routes to reach the UK for people desperately in need of protection it needs to be far more ambitious.
“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.”
The pilot scheme will be run in partnership with the charity Talent Beyond Boundaries, which already works on the Australian and Canadian programmes. Marina Brizar, its UK director said: “This programme will empower UK businesses to help unlock solutions for forcibly displaced people, simply by recognising their skills. We are grateful to the UK government and our partners
who have enthusiastically supported displaced talent mobility. We look forward to assisting displaced people to rebuild their lives with purpose, dignity and safety in the UK.”
Patel said last night: “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. And I can announce this government will take action to help those displaced by conflict and violence access our global points-based system. 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.”