THOUSANDS of key workers in Swindon who are non-British residents may not be able to work in the UK after the government's new immigration system starts.

Office for National Statistics figures reveal that out of the 34,400 key workers estimated to be in employment in Swindon in 2017-19, 5,700 (17 per cent) of them do not have British nationality.

The figures do not include those born outside the UK who later became British citizens.

Of the 20,200 non-British workers estimated to be in employment in Swindon, 28 per cent worked in sectors deemed essential by the government, such as health and social care, education, food production, transport and other public services.

The GMB union warned that a points-based immigration system which is due to be introduced in January could leave the UK desperately short of key workers.

According to researchers at Oxford University, many key workers will not qualify for a work visa.

The Home Office says the planned post-Brexit immigration is a fairer scheme to attract people with the skills needed in the country. But GMB warned that many migrant workers have already left the UK.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: "Health and social care, for example, rely heavily on workers from abroad. We have huge numbers of vacancies and the current workforce is already under incredible pressure.

"The immigration bill doesn't even reference key workers and has capped salaries of workers to such an extent that care workers we desperately need won't earn enough to meet the threshold.

"Unless it undergoes radical reform, the immigration bill in its current guise will leave the UK desperately short of key workers."

Out of 113,300 total people working in the Swindon area, 30 per cent are key workers. Across the UK about 10 per cent of the country's 10.5 million key workers are non-British.

The Migration Observatory senior researcher Mariña Fernández-Reino said that while some key roles are included in the government’s shortage occupation list, high costs and bureaucracy may make the UK less attractive for EU workers.

She added: “A large share of key workers will not qualify for a work visa in the new immigration policy. For example, social care workers or factory workers in food manufacturing are considered low-skilled and hence do not qualify for a work visa.

“In the short term, there might be some shortages in specific sectors because it will be more difficult for employers to hire EU workers."

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The government is committed to delivering a firmer, fairer, points-based immigration system, based on the skills people have and not where they come from.

“We have removed the Resident Labour Market Test to make it easier for employers to sponsor workers and suspended the cap on skilled migrants.

“We are introducing special schemes to enable more scientists, academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and health and care workers to come to the UK easily, so that we can work with sectors to fill roles quickly where shortages may occur."