LONDON • Britain is considering measures to restrict immigration for all but the highest-skilled European Union workers, a leaked government document said, plans some companies called alarming and an opposition lawmaker described as "plainly cruel".
Large flows of migrants from the EU were one of the reasons some Britons said they voted to leave the bloc in a referendum last year, with one of the Brexit campaign's main slogans saying Britain should "take back control".
But companies, especially those in the catering, social care and retail industries which depend on the steady stream of workers from abroad, say they fear a restrictive immigration policy after Brexit will mean they cannot hire the staff they need.
In the document, which was leaked to The Guardian newspaper and marked "draft - official sensitive", the interior ministry said Britain was changing its focus to make sure, where possible, British companies take on British workers rather than migrants. A spokesman for the government said it did not comment on leaked draft documents.
The document described the proposals as "a platform for discussion" and The Guardian said it had not been agreed with Prime Minister Theresa May's top team of ministers, who are divided as to the best way to control immigration.
It proposes that while highly- skilled workers could get a work permit lasting three to five years, those who are lower-skilled may be allowed to work in Britain for only two years in order to limit the number "of EU citizens able to come to the UK".
The changes would be introduced over time, and the government could place tough new restrictions on EU citizens' rights to bring in family members, it said.