An American-style green card system should be implemented in Europe to prevent migrants being illegally smuggled into the continent, Jean-Claude Junker said last night (Wednesday) as he outlined his plan to stem the refugee crisis.
The creation of a "united European migration policy" would open the door to a "big number" of immigrants from around the world but would kill the trade of illegal people traffickers, the European Commission president said.
His comments prompted claims that encouraging economic migrants to the European Union with the lure of a centralised European work permit would only worsen the refugee crisis engulfing Europe. It was claimed the plans could have a severe impact on the UK if those benefiting from the plans go on to receive citizenship which would allow them to take advantage of the EU's free movement rules.
Critics dismissed the plans as "bonkers", saying they would render Britain's immigration restrictions "defenceless".
David Jones, a former Cabinet minister under David Cameron, said: "This is a green card for Europe - it is a dangerous proposal for Britain. It is not something that we have signed up for - it will mean a backdoor way into Britain." Mr Juncker's plan emerged as:
He told MEPs that the solution to the crisis was to distribute 160,000 migrants across European countries in the Schengen zone.
42,000 asylum seekers were expected to attempt to enter the EU in the next 10 days.
The think tank Rusi warned that the mass migration of those fleeing Syria and Iraq would have a "profound" impact on Britain's society.
David Cameron said Britain would have to use "hard military force" to destroy Isil in Syria in his strongest indication yet that he backs bombing in the country.
Hundreds of migrants continued to break through security fences in Hungary.
Syrian officials confirmed Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, had sent more troops to support the embattled Assad regime, despite warning from the West it would worsen the civil war.
At present non-EU migrants wishing to work in Europe must apply for a work permit with the government of the nation they wish to work in. Mr Juncker's plan would see that system centralised. The European Commission president sees the move as a way of bringing younger workers to the continent to solve the problem of an ageing population.
Such a scheme would likely offer work permits that allow migrants to work in the Schengen zone, on which Britain would have an opt-out.
However, officials declined to say whether the scheme would offer a route to permanent citizenship, and therefore access to the UK jobs market.
Mr Juncker said: "Let us not forget, we are an ageing continent in demographic decline. We will be needing talent. Over time, migration must change from a problem to be tackled to a well-managed resource."
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: "This plan is bonkers. Every one of those people that comes to Europe will after a short period with a green card get an EU passport and be able to come to Britain. David Cameron will be defenceless."
Conservative Eurosceptic MPs lined up to criticise the plans. Sir Bill Cash, chairman of European scrutiny committee, said: "This policy is aimed at the political integration to Europe and will be a back door to a massive increase in UK immigration.
"This is completely unacceptable on the scale envisaged. The UK simply does not have the land space which are already subject to huge pressure already for public services." Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the public administration select committee, added: "A European Union green card flies in the face of David Cameron's pledge that British immigration policy should be made in London not in Brussels.
"It is typical of the old failing European Union to see the answer in this crisis which it helped to create through the principle of free movement that the answer is more freedom of movement not less." Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said the proposal had "no mandate" and would "undermine the immigration policy of the UK and cause a rift between EU countries at a time that there is not even unity about the way the migration crisis is being dealt with".
Mr Juncker said his plan to ease the refugee crisis was to force EU countries to accept 160,000 refugees from Italy, Hungary and Greece, which are struggling with the influx. Under the plans, which Britain has opted out from, countries will be fined 0.002 per cent of GDP if they refuse their allocation.
Germany and France are in favour, but Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are bitterly opposed. The relocation scheme comes with a carrot of euros 6,000 for each migrant taken.
Mr Juncker claimed that a refusal to adopt an earlier, more modest scheme of 40,000 people had caused migrants to die. However, Mr Cameron warned that creating quotas for migrants "sends a message to people that it is a good idea to get on a boat and make that perilous journey". A leading think tank warned yesterday that the mass migration of those fleeing Syria and Iraq would have a "profound" impact on the UK society.
The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said thatthe effect of the refugee crisis on the UK and the rest of Europe could be as great, if not greater, than the threat of terrorism from the war-torn regions.