Yesterday’s published independent report by the Migration Advisory Committee ( MAC) recommended to the Government
to set tough new curbs on low -skilled EU migrants from 1st January 2021. Until then , after Brexit on 29th March 2019, and until the end of the transitional period 31st December 2020, EU migrants and their families coming to settle in the UK will benefit from free movement rights and will be able to apply for leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.
Furthermore until the end of the transitional period after Brexit , there will be no requirement that EU nationals coming to the UK would need to work or have worked ( the exercise of Treaty rights), in order to qualify for status under the UK settlement scheme as now set out in the new appendix EU to the immigration rules.
However the report from MAC makes it clear that a very different scenario should take place as from 1st January 2021. EU Nationals would be subject to the same rules as immigrants from non-European countries, and those who want to live in the UK for more than 6 months may well need a visa.
However in my view the advice of the MAC calling on curbs on low-skilled EU workers must be considered cautiously, because of the real possibility of crippling key industries due to shortage of unskilled labour. MAC does not consider there has been huge benefits for the UK economy from EU migration, and neither does it report that there have been significant disadvantages. This is interesting as the Brexit vote for the ordinary person on the street was based mainly on immigration issues , and since 23rd June 2016, there have been arguments within government and opposition parties as regards the benefits of EU migration and the disadvantages as more particularly enunciated by hard core brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Reese-Mogg.
Flying in the face of the views of “remainers”, the MAC report views that the impact of free movement on Britain to date has been “ modest”. The report says that if it’s recommendations were implemented , the Government would achieve its targets of reducing net migration into the annual tens of thousands, as has been the desire of the conservative Government from when David Cameron was Prime Minister.
Of course one possible reason why EU workers are favoured by key industries is because they are in the main prepared to work for less, and there is something here to be said I believe about those from Eastern Europe and their or their families upbringing during the communist era , in that unless they worked they would starve. So companies that depend at present on low – skilled EU workers would after Brexit if the recommendations of MAC are to be implemented, have to make existing employees more productive and increase salaries to attract Britons to do jobs undertaken by Eastern Europeans.
The Prime Minister Mrs May and her Home Secretary Mr Sajid Javid are ad idem on the issue of reducing migration after Brexit, and my understanding is that they do wish to implement the MAC recommendations as soon as possible. In fact , the Home Secretary wishes to rush through Britain’s post- Brexit immigration regime as soon as possible to obviate any watering down of the proposals by Brussels as part of the on going negotiation process.
The cabinet are going to have to discuss the MAC proposals and there may well be a fight over low- skilled workers.
There are huge problems in bringing EU nationals under the same or similar visa regime as migrants from outside the EU. There is bound to be a tit for tat retaliation by Brussels, with respect to those Britons not only currently working and established with their families in the 27 EU states, but those who travel on business to Europe on regular basis .
At present there is a cap on the number of skilled workers who can come to the UK on Tier 2 work permits, save for the fact that this cap of 20,700 per annum has been lifted due to NHS shortages for a number of specialist non EU doctors and nurses. The MAC report recommends that the cap on skilled workers under the Tier 2 category should be abolished which is a sensible recommendation .
Visa restrictions for EU nationals after Brexit and indeed upon non EU nationals could be relaxed according to the recommendations, depending on any trade deals struck by these countries with the UK after Brexit. So such individual trade deals with the EU, the US, India and other countries would loosen the migration rules with individual states and introduce special exceptions. This could mean that the precise shape of post- Brexit EU migration will for the most part remain unclear until well after Brexit day on March 29th. This is not good for business.
One conclusion I believe that can be made fairly safely is that after Brexit, there would no longer be a preferential system for EU citizens. Time will tell as to it’s repercussions both on the UK economy and on Britons living and working abroad. We are going into the unknown, and it may be like so much in our lives, that we will as a nation have to solve problems as and when they arise, rather than second guess what may or may not happen.
Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.