Post Brexit – taking back control
Under the ‘freedom of movement ‘ principle EU citizens had the right to work in any member state and access social services, healthcare and education in the same way as citizens of the host country.
There are an estimated 3 million EU citizens in the UK and 1 million UK citizens in the EU. The opening position of both sides to the Brexit negotiations is that the status and rights of these groups must be protected.
EU citizens now make up 10% of the UK workforce, with a much higher percentage in the NHS, construction, food manufacture, agriculture and hospitality.
In the white paper published in February 2017, the Conservative Government declared that it will ‘take back control of inward migration from the EU’. It has set an extremely challenging target – to reduce immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ per year – the white paper identified immigration in 2016 = 363,000.
To achieve a reduction in immigration the UK Government will have to consider:
- The status of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK
- Future systems for the control of immigration the EU
- How the new regime will be enforced particularly at the external borders
Status of UK and EU Citizens
Both sides to the negotiations recognise the need to clarify the status of EU and UK citizens; to relieve the pressures on individuals and their families and to provide clarity for the employers of these workers.
The UK government are reluctant to commit to a position too early in the negotiations.
The EU set out it’s position in the working paper ‘Essential Principles on Citizens Rights’ May 2017:
- Equal treatment of UK and UK under national laws
- UK and EU citizens should acquire the right to permanent residency after five years legal residency
- Protection of the Common Travel Area between UK and Ireland
- UK and EU citizens who are resident legally at the date of the ‘withdrawal agreement’ should be considered legally resident even if they do not hold residency documents evidencing that right.
Future systems for Immigration control
The UK currently operate a points based system – migrants need a number of points based on their education, experience, age and where appropriate the level of need within the sector. The system has 5 tiers:
- Highly skilled workers – scientists, entrepreneurs
- Skilled workers with job offers – teachers, engineers
- Lower skilled workers filling temporary labour shortages
- Youth mobility / temporary workers – musicians
Tier 3 is currently suspended as Government policy is that there are sufficient low skilled workers available within the EEA.
The UK has relied on the ‘free movement’ principle, for the supply of low skilled workers from Eastern Europe.
Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was traditionally used to provide short-term labour for harvesting during peak periods. In 2012, SAWS provided the agricultural sector with 22,250 seasonal workers; the scheme was solely available to workers from Bulgaria and Romania. Restriction on Bulgarian and Romanian workers was lifted in 2013 and the SAWS was suspended on the basis that there was now sufficient workers available within the unrestricted EEA labour market.
The National Farmers Union estimates that the agricultural sector currently needs 80,000 seasonal workers a year, and expects this to rise to 95,000 by 2021.
Post Brexit the most obvious options available to provide access to migrant workers would be to use the existing Tier 3 points system or introduce a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
Enforcement at external borders
The most effective control of immigration does not happen through border controls – terrorist can move undetected from Europe to Middle East evading border controls. It is primarily where the immigrant applies for a job or comes in contact with social services that they are identified.
It is not clear what changes will be introduced for EU citizens in respect of checks and visas at external borders – will the queues in airports currently used by UK and EU passport holders be restricted to UK citizens only?
Some form of controls and restrictions on the border will be necessary to enforce EU and UK customs and provide an acceptable level of security.
It has been suggested that border checks on the island of Ireland could be pulled back to the ports and airports.