26 September, 2017 - 17:21 By News Desk

Designing our post-Brexit immigration system

We are told that a key benefit of leaving the EU is that the Government will regain control of our borders and will finally be able to decide who is and is not allowed to come to the UK., writes Clare Hedges, senior associate, Birketts LLP.

So how will Theresa May, Amber Rudd et al, exploit these new found freedoms? And what can employers do to ensure their interests are protected?

The Tories want to “reduce net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.” So we can safely assume that it will get harder for migrants to come to the UK.

Although we have not yet left the EU, employers are already seeing the effects of Brexit. International competitors are exploiting the current uncertainty to lure away top talent. 

Workers who feel unwelcome or fear that their future has become precarious are choosing to leave. Others are finding that the weaker pound coupled with improved prospects elsewhere in Europe mean there is little benefit in working in the UK.

Furthermore some employers are moving operations abroad, to comply with EU regulations, or maintain access to EU funding. Therefore we are already starting to see a reduction in the net migration figures.

Whilst EEA nationals already in the UK are repeatedly being told they have no cause for concern, the Government has made it clear that it wants to end the free movement of people. Its proposal for EU nationals published in August may say that those who entered the UK before the referendum will be allowed to stay, but it also suggests that the Government will stop recognising permanent residence status and those who wish to stay indefinitely will need to apply for “a new settled status”. 

Worries about rules and timescales for this have led to an increase in EEA nationals seeking to naturalise as British citizens before March 2019. The recently leaked document with more detail on the Government’s proposals reveals that post-Brexit they intend to apply similar rules to EEA nationals as currently operate for non-EU immigration.

There is acknowledgement that employers will also need some limited ability to recruit ‘low-skilled’ workers (that term itself has become contentious), but their rights will be more limited.

It is not just EEA nationals who are in the Government’s sights. The Tory manifesto also included increasing the Immigration Skills Charge, making it harder for international students to stay and work in the UK post-study and reviewing the minimum income requirement for spouse visas.

The Government has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to report on the economic and social impacts of Brexit and how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with “a modern industrial strategy”. The MAC is calling for evidence to inform this report. It is essential that anyone with an interest in future immigration policy responds. In particular those who wish to challenge the government’s current thinking!

There are lots of different consultations and surveys taking place at the moment, but as the MAC report has been commissioned by the government itself, it is likely to be the most influential. 

If you want to have a post-Brexit immigration system that takes your needs into account, then it is vital that you make your case to the MAC. Evidence must be submitted by October 27, 2017.

You can choose to respond to all, or just some, of the MAC’s questions, which can be found at www.gov.uk

The MAC says it is seeking “views and evidence”, but in practice we know the MAC’s focus is on evidence rather than opinion. To be effective, you should try to provide data and examples to support what you are saying. These could be quantitative or qualitative. 

The data we expect the MAC to find useful includes:-

  • What types of role are currently filled by migrant workers and why.
  • What you would do if you were not allowed to recruit EEA nationals.
  • How you recruit and what the impact would be if you had to wait for someone to get a work permit.
  • What level of cost and bureaucracy you would be willing to bear to recruit an EEA national.
  • Any experiences of using the current visa system.
  • Business planning cycles and any effects of Brexit that are already being seen/anticipated.
  • Details of how EEA nationals are working not just as employees, but as consultants, agency workers and on a self-employed basis.

We know these issues are of concern to employers of all sizes around the region. To help you share evidence with the MAC we are hosting a roundtable event with them on October 6, 2017. 

Places are strictly limited, but if you are interested in attending please contact me. Call 01223 326605 or email me – clare-hedges [at] birketts.co.uk 

We understand that Cambridge Network is also supporting its members with responses to the MAC.

Brexit affects British workers, as well as migrants. On a bigger scale, the theme of our annual employment law conference on October 12, 2017 is Recruitment, Retention and Engagement in Changing Times. This includes a breakout session on Brexit-proofing your workforce. For further details and to book your place see: www.birketts.co.uk/events

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