What does Brexit mean for UK immigration and EU citizens living in the UK?

What does Brexit mean for UK immigration and EU citizens living in the UK?

Though little has progressed with Brexit since the UK voted to leave the EU, now 15 months ago, the concerns of EU citizens living in the UK remain. UK PM Theresa May made the biggest step towards actual change with Article 50, triggering the two-year process of withdrawal from the union in March this year. There is now a lengthy period of negotiation for the EU and UK to agree terms of the separation. The UK is faced with the choice to step away from, or remain with,  EU legislation which currently governs the UK, including the Free Movement of Labour for EU citizens.

What rights does the Free Movement of Labour give EU citizens in the UK today?

Currently, citizens from EU member states can work and reside in the UK as long as they are employed, or able to support themselves without an undue burden on public funds. EU citizens also have access to public services such as healthcare and education. Employers must treat EU citizens in the same way as UK citizens. Family members of EU citizens are allowed to accompany their relation. This applies to dependents, spouses, parents, grandparents and grandchildren. An EU citizen can start or run a company in the UK without any additional permissions.

Should European citizens in the UK be concerned?

Possibly, it is certain is that there will be changes. What the changes will be is not yet decided. Causing extensive worry for Europeans currently living or working in the UK. There are over 3 million citizens living in the UK today from EU countries. Some EU citizens worry about the possibility of deportation. However, the UK must consider relations with EU member states and the European Union as a whole. The negotiations for Brexit will include a strong desire for the UK to retain trade links and trade deals with the EU. The UK also needs to consider and protect UK citizens, and their rights, living in other EU member states also under the Free Movement of Labour. Deportation, as such, is not likely to happen. We look next at what might.

How will the status of EU citizens change after Brexit?

There is much negotiating to be done before the status and rights of EU citizens in the UK, and travelling to the UK, is finalised. It’s expected the government will produce a post-Brexit immigration policy to be announced in the next year.

Meanwhile, the government has taken steps to reassure EU citizens with the release of a “UK settled status” offer in June this year. The “settled status” will give EU citizens who have spent five or more years in the UK equal rights to healthcare, education, benefits and pensions. Individuals must apply for “settled status”, and can also apply for British Citizenship. A cut-off date will be set between the date article 50 was triggered, and the date the UK actually leaves the EU. Those who arrived before the cut-off date, but who have not lived in the UK for five years, will be able to apply once five years have expired. Those arriving after the cut-off date will be able to apply for permission to remain in the UK under the post-Brexit immigration rules yet to be set. Family dependants who are living with EU citizens in the UK before the exit from the EU will again be able to apply for “settled status” after a period of five years.  Applications will be to the Home Office. An online application system is expected to be launched in 2018 giving EU citizens time to apply before the UK leaves the EU.

Rumours abound as to what the rules will be for EU citizens visiting, or wanting to live and work, in the UK after the actual split from the EU occurs. The Guardian reported on August 17th that EU citizens would likely be allowed to visit without a visa. But, new migration restrictions would apply for those wanted to work in the UK.

Speculation around the new immigration system includes the possibility of quotas, or a set number of work permits becoming available for EU workers with certain skillsets. It’s unlikely that any form of complete continuation of free movement will happen post-Brexit. The UK government announced late July that free movement of people between the EU and the UK would end in March 2019. Any EU workers arriving after that date would need to at least register, whilst a permanent immigration solution was put in place.

So, what do the statistics say?

Current trends in European immigration to the UK.

Uncertainty and concern across the UK and EU is starting show in current migration statistics. Trends are showing how Brexit may affect the UK and it’s labour market now and in future years. The Independent in the UK reported on new Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures. The figures show net migration to the UK having fallen by a quarter mainly due to uncertain EU citizens leaving the UK. Concern is the figures constitute a “brain drain” from the UK as skilled labour reliant industries lose vital workers.

Net migration is the number of people moving to the UK minus the number who are leaving over the same period. The number of new arrivals to live and work in Britain fell by 81,000 compared to the previous year. Out of the 51,000 non-British leavers from the UK, 44,000 were EU citizens. Of entrants, there was a significant fall in the number of Polish and Czech migrants, down to just 7,000 from a previous 40,000.

Some politicians, and many business leaders, are worried about the impact to industry and the labour market in the UK. Unemployment is currently at it’s lowest ever for the UK, just 4.5 per cent. A continued departure of EU citizens, who make up a demographic of 3 million in the UK, could seriously detriment workforce figures.

The number of international students, which includes students from the EU, also declined by 27,000 in the past year. Despite studies not being available, the general consensus is that international students add value to an economy through their spending, social, and academic contribution. International students often go on to fill high-skilled gaps in the labour market within their new country, in this case the UK.

These are not the only labour market issues. The Independent also led with a story recently on UK Trade Unions and Labour party MP’s plans in favour of continued free movement of labour within the EU. They cite warnings over the impact of workers, with less rights post-Brexit, being exploited by employers. The group suggests EU workers who will in the future have less rights, may receive less pay and benefits, driving down wage rates in the UK economy. They warn the end of free movement may lead to worker shortages, which would affect sectors of industry in the UK.

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