With under six months to go until the UK leaves the EU, it's uncertain exactly what the new immigration policy will look like
At the Conservative party conference, Theresa May outlined an immigration plan that would prioritise higher-skilled workers and treat the EU the same as the rest of the world, but we’re still waiting for the immigration paper, which is set to be released by the end of the year.
Immigration lawyer Uche Uwaezuoke from the Immigration Advice Service breaks down what immigration might look like after Brexit.
How many workers in the UK are from the EU?
As of August, there were almost 2.3 million EU nationals working in the UK. This is 86,000 fewer than the previous year - the largest drop since records began in 1997, according to the ONS.
EU workers make up from 4% to 30% of workers across different sectors. The government’s intention to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands has still not been met, and the Tier 2 work visa cap has been reached every month this year apart from in August.
Will leaving the EU reduce immigration?
Theresa May announced that freedom of movement to the UK from EU countries would end after Brexit. This means any EU nationals wanting to live and work here would need to obtain a visa.
While a reduction in EU migration could help the government achieve its immigration target, it could leave some industries with vacancies they struggle to fill. Removing the cap for medical professionals was a good first move, but the Tier 2 immigration route will continue to swell as companies look beyond Europe to fill their vacancies.
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Immigration from outside the UK is actually on the rise - ONS data shows there were 1.27 million non-EU nationals working in the UK, an increase of 74,000 from the previous year.
How can foreign workers come to the UK after Brexit?
The Home Office is setting in motion their plans for the post-Brexit immigration system which will prioritise higher-skilled workers. For example, home secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans for a new start-up visa which will replace the current Graduate Entrepreneur route, opening it up to candidates who do not hold a degree.
The government has also opened out the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa, extending its reach to members of the fashion industry and increasing the number available each year. This visa does not require a job offer to be applied for, but you must first apply for endorsement from the Home Office as an exceptional talent.
Can lower-skilled workers still come to the UK if freedom of movement ends?
Lower-skilled workers will have a more difficult time accessing the UK as there is no visa route for lower-skilled jobs.
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The Tier 2 route requires an offer of a skilled job with a minimum income of £30,000. The Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme may be the best option for those without a job offer or particular skill. It allows the applicant to work in the UK for two years, and they can apply if they have over £1,890 in savings. It is currently only open to citizens aged 18-30 who come from eight countries, but there has been talk of the government offering a similar scheme to EU citizens post-Brexit.
What about farmers?
Romanian workers pick strawberries on a farm in Kent. Image: Getty
UK agriculture relies heavily on EU workers. It’s estimated that in peak seasons, a temporary workforce of around 75,000 - 98% of whom come from the EU - prop up UK farms, with a further 116,000 EU nationals working in food manufacturing.
The government announced a two-year trial in September of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ scheme, which will allow 2,500 non-EU farm workers into the UK for six months at a time.
But farmers have criticised the scheme, saying it’s nowhere near enough workers to meet demand.
What will happen to EU citizens living in the UK?
The EU Settlement Scheme has been introduced by the government for EU citizens to apply for permanent residence in the UK once free movement has ended. They have assured citizens that this scheme will still be used in the event of no-deal so EU citizens will not have to fear being asked to leave immediately next March.
Residency can be applied for online, and is designed to be easier than the previous system of applying for permanent residence, which can be extensive and requires a large amount of documentary evidence.
The Settlement Scheme, which costs £65 per adult, will allow those who have been in the UK for five years to receive Settled Status and those who have been here less than five years to hold pre-Settled Status until they meet the requirement. The application to move from pre-Settled to Settled Status is also free.
What about UK citizens living in the EU?
A British holidaymaker in Benidorm. Image: Getty
1.3 million people from the UK live in other European countries. It is unclear what changes they might face after Brexit.
There have been reports that if they are receiving a UK pension, this may not continue, as there’ll be no framework for financial transactions to be made between the UK and the EU.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has described the financial hurdles as “an issue that we ought to be able to resolve”, but a smooth transition would require a deal with the EU. It’s uncertain what rights UK expats would have in the event of a no deal Brexit.
UK citizens living abroad might have the right to remain in the country they're in, but some expat advice services advise that they won't have free movement, as they won't be an EU citizen any longer.
For UK citizens who want to live and work in Europe, it's likely they'll be subject to the visa requirements of the country they want to live in, unless they move before 29 March 2019.