Katie Beech of the Immigration Advice Service discusses how immigration has set the course for Brexit negotiations
The UK’s decision to leave the EU looks set to define social and economic moves made in the next generation, shaking the entire make-up of the country. When the UK leaves the European Union in 2019, what follows will be the first look at how the country will act as an independent nation.
Of course, no decisions are set in stone until Brexit is actioned. The subject of immigration has defined the first part of Brexit negotiations and affects the lives of thousands of people in the UK and beyond.
The lawyers at the Immigration Advice Service (IAS) noted an immediate increase in the number of applications following the vote in June 2016, including many European nationals seeking permanent residency to ensure their place in the UK. EU nationals currently living in the UK find themselves baffled by the inconsistencies of the immigration process.
No matter what side of the political fence you stand on, a mass exodus of working migrants from the UK will provide the country with a shortage of skilled labour. Industries that host a sizeable number of migrants including nursing, abattoir vets, and hospitality will suffer. The assumption is that UK nationals will fill the roles left by migrants. Experts, however, are estimating that these jobs will go unfilled for up to 10 years to account for the time, persons and training needed.
Immigration has come to be a marker for the government on how they’ll conduct the rest of the Brexit negotiations. It looks like they’re ready to go in hard for this first stage.
Papers recently leaked to The Guardian revealed that there will no longer be a system of free movement from the EU to the UK. Current EU nationals living in the country will be defined as either ‘low-skilled’ EU migrants offered a maximum two-year residency after Brexit, or ‘high-skilled’ migrants, who will be granted a three to five-year residency. This move sets a precedent for the government, demonstrating that the UK will be going for a hard Brexit, and that coming to the UK to live is about to get a lot harder for EU nationals.
Confusingly, there’s been no clear definition of what’s defined as a low-skilled or a high-skilled worker, causing grave concern for the industries most affected by the change in immigration law. This lack of clarity about future employment prospects leaves EU nationals living in the UK in a state of limbo.
European immigration law also seems to be off the table. The leaked documents also revealed that the popular Surinder Singh route – that lets a European citizen move to another member state and bring their non-EU spouse with them – become obsolete. Although this has yet to be confirmed, the prospect of this change has set many people on edge. Working out how to stay in the UK now dominates their lives.
So, what can we do? Comprehensive immigration advice needs to be made available to smaller companies who have EU employees or will need them in the future. EU nationals living in the UK will need a defined timeline made available to them to show how long they can continue to live in the UK without applying for permanent residency or a visa. Finally, the Home Office will need to make changes instantly visible either on their website or through the media. In turn, embassies and high commissions will need to pass on comprehensive information to their nationals.
With applications for permanent residency and citizenship expected to rise exponentially in the coming months, many people are suffering with immigration anxiety, waiting to see what their status will become when Brexit is put into practice.