Employment and immigration solicitor Caroline Glacken looks at some of the big immigration questions that we need to face post-Brexit
With Brexit now a reality, and UK politics in turmoil, there are many more questions than answers.
The next two years will herald significant change for the UK. Immigration was a significant battleground in the run up to the referendum and one thing we can be sure of is that free movement in the current manner and scale is not going to survive.
Are we likely to see an increase in numbers of EU migrants who want to move to the UK before increased controls are put in place?
The outcome of the referendum and much of the immigration related rhetoric in the run up to the campaign has probably made the UK appear quite unwelcoming from the outside. This is saddening. It remains to be seen if the economy will keep its balance and if the lure of the City and other big industry continues to attract the migrant talent which it has in the past.
It is possible (likely even) that, over the course of the next two years, the UK will seek to reach agreements with other European countries where large numbers of UK citizens reside – such as Spain and France – and that some level of reciprocal freedom of movement will subsist.
What will this mean for EU citizens who want to move to the UK?
The simple answer is that unless specific agreements maintaining aspects of free movement are reached, the citizens of European countries living and working in the UK will be subject to greater immigration control. This will ultimately mean that, in the future, a decision to move to the UK from Europe will need to take account of visa arrangements. This may mean a complete overhaul of, or possibly an extension of, the existing points-based visa system which currently applies to non-EU migrants.
What about EU citizens who are already living in the UK?
There is not necessarily going to be an immediate or significant change of experience for EU migrants who currently live and work in the UK. The key change is likely to be an administrative need to clarify and manage their immigration status and those that are eligible could consider applying for permanent residency and citizenship to meet this issue head on.
EU migrants who have lived in the UK for 5 years or more have a right to ‘permanent residence’ and can naturalise as a British citizen. Although this right derives from EU law, the 5-year qualifying period is mirrored in other aspects of immigration law in the UK, applicable to non-EU migrants.
In order to apply for citizenship, the UK requires that you first apply for a permanent residence card and you can go on to apply for UK citizenship. This is a somewhat lengthy application, requires passing of the Life in the UK test, and bears a fee. However, those who have already clarified their status in this way are less likely to be impacted by an increase in immigration control. In the run up to the referendum, there was a reported increase in Permanent Residency applications and this trend is likely to continue now as the future is less certain.
The Irish living in the UK were able to vote in the referendum – how does this affect them?
Irish citizens in the UK will not be directly impacted by the changes at a European level. As a former Commonwealth country, Irish citizens have separate legal rights under UK law and are classified as ‘non-foreign’. The Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland is also protected under separate law. These historical rights may need to be considered in the context of a post-Brexit reality and some changes may result. However, both the UK and Ireland will be keen to reach a solution that makes sense for residents of Northern Ireland and this gives hope that the Common Travel Area will be maintained.
Will immigration be easier for non-EU migrants?
Some have argued that a levelling of immigration opportunity represents a fairer approach generally. In principle, the outcome should be that there will be an increased opportunity for those outside Europe. For example, there is currently a requirement for Tier 2 employers to test the market to see if a vacancy can be filled from within the UK. This has meant that if a suitable EU migrant with freedom of movement could fill the role they would have to be selected above a migrant from outside the EU.
However, the current points based system has other biases, such as: caps on monthly sponsorship numbers; degree level qualifications required as a minimum for skilled workers and fast-track routes to citizenship for those who can bring millions in investment monies to the UK. Opportunity under the system has been narrowed considerably in recent years, against the background of political promises of reduced net migration.
One potential outcome of all of this is a complete overall of how immigration into the UK is granted and decided – at the very least we expect the current system to be scrutinised and significant changes. It remains to be seen whether immigration will become fairer for all or just more difficult for everyone.