New immigration rules for after Brexit have been revealed
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 22 Dec 2018
Immigration was a large factor in so many people voting to leave the European Union, including in Grimsby where 70 per cent voted out.
For many in the town, immigration concerns prompted more than 60 per cent of people to vote for Brexit, with many critical of free movement, which allows EU migrants to come to the UK without having a job secured. Opponents of free movement argue the influx of low-skilled migration has suppressed wages in Britain.
Now, the government has revealed its plans to end free movement from Europe after Brexit in 2020, and how it will replace it with a new single set of immigration rules.
Those looking for absolute clarity will be disappointed to learn that, despite the immigration white paper being much delayed and agonised over, some decisions have been shirked – the Home Office has been non-committal on a number of key details.
And while the Brexit deadline is officially March 29, 2019, free movement is likely to continue for many years after that date.
Here is what you need to know about the new immigrations system.
A single system
Theresa May has regularly confirmed freedom of movement will end after Brexit (Image: AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
The government plans to replace the current two-tier migration system with a single policy. Currently, any worker coming from the EU, no matter how skilled, can come and work in the UK, while those from outside the EU have to meet a skills-criteria to be eligible for a time-limit work visa.
Ministers plan to change that system through the Immigration Bill – which will end free movement. They will instead revert to an immigration policy which will no longer accept low-skilled migrants and will treat skilled workers from the EU and “low-risk” countries the same. The “low-risk” countries alluded to have yet to be announced.
There will be no cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into the UK under the new system but all those arriving will need to be sponsored, like under the US system.
Bad news for Grimsby’s seafood processors
Grimsby's seafood industry wants continued access to low-skilled workers (Image: Seafish)
The seafood hub in Grimsby, which employs more than 5,000 people, have been lobbying ministers about the sector’s requirement for access to low-skilled workers from the EU.
But those calls have fallen on deaf ears – there will be no exemptions for the seafood sector to these stricter rules on immigration.
The only sector that will be given an exemption is agriculture – a point that will be welcomed by Lincolnshire farmers – with plans for a seasonal workers scheme to be brought in at times of high-workload.
Salary threshold shirked
The white paper was delayed, according to reports, over a political argument about the salary threshold for incoming migrants – the minimum they have to earn to be able to live and work in the UK.
In a bid for political unity, the decision has been kicked down the road. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the body which produced independent analysis for the Home Office to consider, recommended a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 per year.
While the government has accepted that as the starting point, it has opted to put an advisory panel together, made up of businesses and others affected by the decision, to decide the final figure.
Critics have argued the £30,000 figure would prevent qualified nurses, carers and teachers from coming to the UK when there is currently a shortage of workers in those fields.
Open door reprieve
There will be a 12-month open door policy after 2020, allowing unskilled workers into the UK
The new rules are due to be in place by the end of the Brexit transition period, set to come into force on January 1, 2021.
But ministers have opened the door to a reprieve, recognising that some UK companies have become “reliant on lower skilled workers from the EU”.
Until 2025, there will be an open door to unskilled workers from both the EU and those unspecified “low-risk” countries around the world. Those arriving during that window will not even have to have a job offer but will be allowed to stay for a maximum of 12-months.
The move could soften the impact of the rule changes on Grimsby's seafood sector.
The unskilled arrivals will have to pay a small fee, be subject to criminal record checks and will not be able to settle, gain access to benefits or bring their families over with them.
‘Tens of thousands’ target stays
The Conservative Party has long committed itself to a target of reducing net migration (i.e. the balance between the numbers of people leaving to the numbers of people entering the UK) into the “tens of thousands”. Given net migration was almost 330,000 in 2017, there is a long way to go to reach that target.
Despite that, the white paper re-commits the government to achieving that manifesto pledge. Having created an immigration system devoid of caps and with an open door policy for its first 12-months, it looks unlikely the government will achieve its “tens of thousands” ambition any time soon.
Trade deal uncertainty
The EU is said to want favourable immigration status of its citizens as part of a trade deal with the UK (Image: PA)
There is a reason why the white paper has left some decisions open-ended, especially when it comes to naming the “low-risk” countries. We can assume it refers to the likes of Canada, Australia and South Korea – developed economies with close trading or historic links to the UK – but it will also depend on the free trade deals carried out after Brexit.
Trade deals often include an element of agreement on migration. This document allows ministers to be flexible, both with the EU and other countries it wants to strike deals with, when it comes to setting out fresh allowances for skilled migration.
Westminster insiders expect the EU to ask for favoured status for its citizens in exchange for a trade deal – a concession that could water down much of the white paper’s proposals.
No plans for no deal
The Cabinet decided this week to ramp-up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. That message does not seem to have reached the Home Office – the white paper goes into no detail on what would happen if Britain leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March. The reforms listed are not due to be in place until 2021.
Sources suggest the priority in a no-deal situation would be sorting the settled status of the 3.5m EU nationals currently living in the UK (who will have special rights) – everything else is up for grabs.