The government announced the introduction of an Immigration Bill as one of a number of Bills that will implement plans post-Brexit.
The aim is to end free movement of workers from the EU while allowing the UK to attract ‘the brightest and the best’ workers.
The Immigration Bill gives us our first glance at the government’s proposals to control the numbers of migrant workers from the EU to the UK once we have left the EU. There is very little detail beyond the ending of free movement of workers and making EU workers subject to national laws on immigration.
Following the Brexit vote last year and the government’s continued commitment to reduce the numbers of migrant workers to the UK, it is no surprise to see an Immigration Bill as a central plank of the government’s Brexit plans. Currently, EU workers have a right to come to the UK to work but the government has made it clear that once we have left the EU this will no longer continue. What is not clear is what will replace this.
What will this mean for EU workers coming to the UK post-Brexit?
At the moment the position is unclear. The Queen’s Speech simply states that after Brexit, EU workers will be subject to national law on immigration. At the moment for those workers from outside the EU, we have a points based system which only allows workers to come to the UK to work to fill skilled roles and they must be paid a minimum salary of £25,000, although the minimum can be higher than this depending on the nature of the role.
It is not clear whether the government will extend this existing system to EU workers or not. The comment in the Queen’s Speech regarding attracting ‘the brightest and the best’ to the UK does indicate an intention to limit workers coming to the UK. Therefore, it is possible that going forward only skilled EU workers will be allowed to work here.
Certain sectors such as agriculture and in particular seasonal crop picking are already struggling to fill roles which traditionally rely on lower skilled EU migrants, even before any additional measures are brought in. According to a BBC survey 21 per cent of growers report not having enough workers to pick crops while 78 per cent reported that recruitment had been harder than last year. There is talk of certain sectors such as agriculture having specific schemes in place to allow them to recruit low skilled workers for jobs but this remains to be seen.
What about EU workers already in the UK?
Theresa May has told EU leaders that the UK would introduce a new category of UK settled worker for those EU workers who have lived in the UK for five years, provided that EU countries offer the same rights to UK citizens living there. Whether this is accepted by EU negotiators remains to be seen.
EU citizens and citizens of the European Economic Area and Switzerland can apply for a permanent residence card to prove that they have been living and working in the UK for five years and it may be advisable to apply for one where the criteria are met as a way of establishing that they would be eligible for the proposed new status. There is no indication of a cut-off date for those individuals who have not yet been in the UK for 5 years. Those individuals can apply for a residence card which will establish the date on which they arrived in the UK.
If the offer is not accepted by EU negotiators, EU citizens could apply for UK citizenship under the naturalisation rules once they have been eligible for a permanent residence card for at least a year and if they satisfy they can show they are:
- 18 or over;
- of good character;
- will continue to live in the UK; and
- have met the knowledge of English and Life in UK requirements.
One notable absence from the Queen’s Speech was any further reference to a net migration target. However, it is clear that a reduction is planned as the Immigration Bill sets out plans for the government to reduce the figure by cutting the number of migrant workers from the EU.
Sarah Lovells is a senior associate at Shoosmiths.