What does the immigration white paper mean for post-Brexit migration?

What does the immigration white paper mean for post-Brexit migration?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

On Wednesday, home secretary Sajid Javid announced that the government will aim to bring immigration to "sustainable" levels. 

In the long-delayed immigration white paper, he sets out the UK's post-Brexit immigration plans, which does not include a specific target to bring immigration numbers to (David Cameron set a target of bringing annual net migration below 100,000, which the government has not yet managed to do).

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, and these plans look to be coming to fruition in the white paper.

Immigration lawyer Uche Uwaezuoke from the Immigration Advice Service breaks down what immigration might look like after Brexit. 


What's in the white paper?

As well as Mr Javid's plans to bring net migration - which is currently at 273,000 - to "sustainable" levels, there will also be no caps on skilled professions like doctors and engineers.

People from "low-risk" countries both in Europe and outside it will be able to visit the UK for up to a year and work, and do not need a job offer, but it looks like it'll be more difficult for them to settle permanently.

The minimum salary requirement for high skilled migrants, who would be granted a five-year visa, is still being finalised. The Migration Advisory Committee suggested £30,000, but Mr Javid said that, while there will be a threshold, the government will "consult further". 

People visiting from the EU won't need visas. 


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.


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 - likely either the year-long unskilled working visa, or the five-year skilled visa. 

While a reduction in EU migration could help the government achieve its immigration target - despite Mr Javid not committing to a number - it could leave some industries with vacancies they struggle to fill.

 Removing the cap for medical professionals was a good first move, and the further removal of the cap on all skilled visas - currently known as the Tier 2 immigration route - is another positive move in combating the impact of free movement ending. 

Industries that currently rely on unskilled labour, like farming, construction and social care, may struggle to fill vacancies if workers have to enter on the year-long visa and leave at the end of that period.

Immigration from outside the EU 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.


Are there any other ways foreign workers can come to the UK?

Mr 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.


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.