Government Releases White Paper On Post-Brexit Immigration
After much delay, the British Government has finally released its White Paper outlining its post-Brexit immigration policy. According to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, it sets out plans for a new single, skills-based immigration system which marks the end of free movement.
Mr Javid states in the foreword that the policy has been based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC, and consultation with business leaders and interest groups across the UK.
Here are the key takeaway points of the Immigration White Paper.
EU Settlement Scheme to be introduced
During the Implementation Period (the 21 months from when Britain leaves the European Union on 29 March 2019), an EU Settlement Scheme will be introduced. EU citizens who resided in the UK prior to Brexit and who arrive during the Implementation Period will be given the opportunity to secure their residency by applying for Settled Status. The EU Settlement Scheme has already begun to be implemented through a phased approach, starting with EU employees working in the NHS, social care and higher education sectors. It will be open to all EU and EFTA citizens from the date of departure from the bloc and close six months after the Implementation Period.
The key principle of the EU Settlement Scheme is that EU citizens must obtain individual, specific permission to stay in the UK after the end of the Implementation Period. This is a major shift from the current freedom of movement principle, in which rights are bestowed on all EU and EFTA nationals via treaties. An Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end free movement will be pushed through so it is in place after the Implementation Period ends. The Bill will protect the immigration status of Irish citizens and scrap the existing arrangements around the availability of benefit support for EU citizens entering the UK.
Skilled and non-skilled workers
As expected, the new immigration system will favour skilled workers. The controversial £30,000 salary threshold has been sent out for a 12-month consultation after Prime Minister Theresa May failed to gain approval from her cabinet over the issue. However, the business community is expected to put enormous pressure on the government to scrap this requirement, as they say the threshold is too high for most sectors, including health and education. One good piece of news is the current cap on the number of skilled workers, including much needed doctors and engineers, are to be removed.
Under the new scheme, it is low-skilled workers who will miss out the most, as will the sectors that employ them. As a transitional measure, to support industries who need time to change their overall strategy regarding reliance on low-skilled workers, such workers will be able to enter the UK for a maximum of 12 months with a cooling-off period of a further 12 months to prevent people effectively working in the UK permanently. They will be able to change employers without sponsorship; however, they will not be entitled to switch visas or access public funds. And crucially, there will be no route to permanent settlement.
This means that employers in the hospitality, care, construction, agricultural, and other sectors which rely on low-skilled EU workers to run and grow their business, will be left high and dry, as it is difficult to see how they will be able to persuade workers to come to the UK for one year without any possibility of permanent settlement. And remember, according to economic forecasts, the UK will be poorer, regardless of which exit deal makes it through the House of Commons.
Any organisation wishing to employ a skilled worker, whether they are an EU citizen or not, will need to sponsor the recruit, which means they will need to apply for and comply with the UK Sponsor Licence regime. However, the White Paper states that the regime will be reformed so it becomes a “lighter-touch, risk-based approach”, aimed at reducing the administrative burden on employers.
Family members of EU citizens
The rights of family members of EU citizens to automatically come to the UK after the end of the Implementation Period will cease. Express permission will be needed in the form of an electronic status before entering the UK.
Visitors to the UK from current EU Member States will not require a visit visa in advance of travel and they can continue to use e-gates to make entry quick and easy.
Business reaction to the Immigration White Paper
Business leaders were quick to react to the White Paper, calling it a “sucker punch” to the economy.
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) deputy Director General, Josh Hardie, told the Guardian:
“A new immigration system must command public confidence and support the economy. These proposals would achieve neither. The proposals outlined in the white paper don’t meet the UK’s needs and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country”.
The CBI’s Director General, Stephen Martin, stated:
“The white paper gives with one hand and takes away with the other. There are some useful proposals, such as removing the cap for high-skilled visas and lowering the qualifications requirement to A-level or advanced apprenticeship, but the £30,000 salary threshold is still in there for consultation, which could affect around 60% of jobs at intermediate skills levels”.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the emphasis on high-skills would continue to create difficulties for small organisations and the self-employed. Its Chairman, Mike Cherry, said 7 in 10 SMEs relied on mid- or low-skilled staff, who could be disqualified from working in Britain under the new immigration rules.
“Getting this threshold wrong will cause serious disruption to the economy. With the employment rate at a record-high, small firms are already struggling to access the skills they need”.
We will update this article as further comment and developments come to the fore.
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