LONDON (AP) — Citizens of European Union countries should not have easier access to the U.K. after Brexit than people from other parts of the world, a government-commissioned report recommended Tuesday.
EU citizens now can live and work in the U.K. under the bloc's free-movement rules, but that will end after Britain leaves the EU in March.
The government asked the Migration Advisory Committee for a report on the impact of EU migration to help shape its future policy.
The committee said "a migrant's impact depends on factors such as their skills, employment, age and use of public services, and not fundamentally on their nationality."
Chairman Alan Manning said if immigration was not part of the divorce negotiations between Britain and the bloc, "we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens."
British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government has not ruled out offering EU citizens preferential access after Brexit in return for similar rights for British citizens in Europe.
The committee, whose members are economists, said the government should make it easier for skilled immigrants to come to Britain by removing a cap on high- and medium-skilled workers, while restricting access for lower-skilled migrants.
It also said immigration had little impact on British workers' employment prospects or wages, contradicting an argument used by some advocates of quitting the 28-nation bloc.
More than 1 million EU citizens have settled in Britain since eight formerly Communist eastern European nations joined the EU in 2004.
The report said the economic impact of migration from the European Economic Area — the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway — was "small in magnitude when set against other changes."
It said the fall in the value of the pound, down more than 10 percent since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, had had "a larger impact than the effect on wages and employment opportunities of residents from all the EEA migration since 2004."
Immigration is a divisive issue in Britain and reducing the number of newcomers was a major factor for many voters who in 2016 backed leaving the European Union. The Conservative government has an oft-stated but long-unmet goal of reducing net immigration below 100,000 people a year, less than half the current level.
Tuesday's report rejected many claims made by opponents of immigration about the negative impact of migrants on society and the economy.
It said EEA migrants "pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits," contribute "much more" to the health care system as workers than they consume in services, and do not harm the education prospects of British-born children. The report also found no link between immigration and crime rates.
The Resolution Foundation, an economic think tank, said the report's recommendations would " effectively end low-skilled migration," presenting a challenge for industries such as farming, food manufacturing, hotels and domestic care and cleaning workers.
The group's senior economic analyst, Stephen Clarke, said the proposals "would, if accepted by government, represent the biggest change to the U.K. labor market in a generation."