Immigration had been a vital part of the Brexit movement and the recent rise in immigration was one of the main arguments that brought nationalists together to vote for the UK to leave the European Union. One of the goals of Brexit was to reform the UK’s current immigration system and once the UK leaves, immigration may look differently both in the UK and the EU.
The UK will officially leave the European Union on 29th March 2019. After leaving, there will be a two-year period to help make the UK’s transition as smooth as possible. Currently, it’s unclear how trade deals, the rights of citizens, and immigration will be affected. However, we do know that after the leave has been finalised, the UK will no longer be subject to the EU rules on free movement of people and the UK will be able to change its immigration system.
Free Movement of People
Under the EU laws, countries that are members of the European Union are assured mutual free movement of people, meaning that EU citizens do not need a visa or work permit to live and work in any EU country. Once the leave has been finalised, the UK will no longer be subject to this EU law. Brexiters had promised that this would allow the UK to take control of its own borders and restrict unwanted immigration, however, there are also other situations that would need to be resolved, such as satisfying the demand for migrant labour in low-skilled and middle-skilled jobs, as well as managing the differences between costs and the advantages of the various types of migration.
European & Non-European Migrants
The migrants that would be most affected by Brexit will be the Europeans that are living in the UK or want to work in the UK. Those that have been resident in the UK are likely to be allowed to stay, however, low-skilled migrants that are looking to move into the UK may find it harder to move in. For migrants that are outside of the EU, Brexit may impose a few direct implications.
Many of the EU migrants that are living in Britain have been here for some time. Data from the Migration Observatory shows that in Q1 of 2015, an estimated 39% of citizens from EEA countries have been living in the UK for ten years or more. An additional 32% of citizens had lived in the UK for 5 years or more. From this data, we can see that a majority of EU migrants have been living in the UK long enough to qualify for permanent residence. This is usually gained after 5 years of residence.
UK Migration Restrictions
In comparison to other EU members, the UK already had more flexibility which allowed it to opt in or opt out of EU policies on refugees and migrants. As an example, the UK does not participate in the border-check free Schengen area, this may have contributed to the number of asylum seekers being relatively low. This is unlikely to change after Brexit.
The UK is aiming to restrict migration from mainland Europe by placing residence and work permit criteria on EU nationals, which is quite similar to the current system that is in place for non-Europeans. This means that EU nationals will need to qualify for work permits based on their level of skill, whether it’s low-skilled or high-skilled. There would be temporary permits for low-skilled workers that last either two years or three years in length, but they would not be eligible for permanent residency in the UK. High-skilled workers would be eligible for work permits that can last five years and they could eventually be eligible to apply for permanent residency.
There are uncertainties as to how Brexit will affect immigration, as with many other questions in the EU referendum debate. We do not know what agreements the EU and the UK might strike or how the UK government will handle policies for both EU and non-EU migration.
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