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UK Conservatives: No more preferential treatment for EU migrants after Brexit

Signage is seen at the UK border control point at the arrivals area of Heathrow Airport, London

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives said on Sunday they would end preferential treatment for European Union migrants from January 2021 if they win an election next month.

The level of immigration and concerns over the pressure this puts on public services was a major driver behind the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

Setting out details of their post-Brexit immigration policy ahead of a Dec. 12 election, the Conservatives said EU nationals would typically have to wait five years before they could access welfare payments, compared with the current three months.

"As we come out of the EU we have a new opportunity for fairness and to make sure all those who come here are treated the same. We will make our immigration system equal," Johnson said in a statement.

The Conservatives also said they would increase the international health surcharge paid by migrants to access Britain's National Health Service to 625 pounds ($800) from 400 pounds from next year, and extend it to all foreign workers.

This would include EU migrants after free movement ends in January 2021, the party said, adding that they expected the move to raise more than 500 million pounds a year.

The Conservatives said the vast majority of migrants would need a job offer to come to Britain to work regardless of where they are from in the world, with exceptions including highly skilled scientists and those who want to start a business.

Johnson's predecessors, David Cameron and Theresa May, came under fire for failing to meet a pledge to reduce annual net migration to less than 100,000. It was more than double that in the latest official figures released in August.

The Conservatives have pledged to introduce a points-based system for post-Brexit immigration.

"We are not going to fix on an arbitrary target," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC TV, when asked by how much the Conservatives would reduce immigration.

"What we will do is make sure that the government and parliament has got control over immigration so we get the advantages, the benefits ... and we also control the costs and the pressures."


(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, editing by Louise Heavens)