Home Office Stance on Free Movement of People

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On 18 January, the Home Office issued a response to the House of Lords European Union Committee Report on UK-EU Movement of people. In the open letter, Rt Hon Brandon Lewis praised the Committee for their report, which considered the implications for free movement of people post-Brexit.

The main legislative measure used to facilitate Brexit will be heavily criticised European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In short, this will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, incorporate relevant EU legislation into UK law and provide extensive powers to the UK government with regards to secondary legislation. These so called ‘Henry VIII’ powers have been a cause for concern for many, particularity the Scottish and Welsh governments who recognise that their devolved powers may be limited as a result. The Bill completed the Report and 3rd reading stages on 17 January 2018 and will progress to the House of Lords for Second Reading on Tuesday 30th and Wednesday 31st January. The government has also announced that it plans to introduce an Immigration Bill post-Brexit, which will likely be used to end free movement of workers.

Last autumn marked the leak of a controversial post-Brexit immigration document from the Home Office. The 82-page report provided an in-depth view of the UK government’s plans for EU and third country migrants, both during the transition period and longer term. The three-stage approach was set to include the introduction of an Immigration Bill, stricter rules being enforced during the implementation period and final plan for long term immigration controls. The paper focused on introducing a very selective approach to migration, with controls based on the social and economic needs of the country. This stance was reiterated in Brandon Lewis’ letter, where he stated that reducing net migration further is a key aim for the Home Office.

With regards to border control, the leaked document set out that all EU citizens would require a passport to obtain entry to the UK, with identity cards no longer being accepted. The government have not yet provided a timescale for the introduction of this requirement, but did state that ‘adequate notice’ of the change would be given.

Economic Migrants

The UK government plan to prioritise ‘resident labour’ and enforce stricter rules for economic migrants. Post-Brexit it will likely be significantly more difficult for both EU and third country workers to obtain employment in the UK. This is part of the government’s long-term plan for controlled, selective migration. The Home Office document states that “immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off.” It also sets out the government will have more power over the decision to allow economic migrants access to the country, limiting employers’ rights to hire workers from outside the UK.

One proposed measure is the introduction of an income threshold for EU nationals residing in the UK. Current EU rules require self-sufficiency for the first five years of residence in a host state, therefore the new UK rules could result in conflict depending on how they are formulated. With regards to work permits for third country nationals, the standard term will be just 2 years, with some highly-skilled workers granted a longer permit up to 5 years. During the implementation period, EU citizens will need to apply for a residence permit if they wish to stay in the UK for longer than 3 months.

The Migration Advisory Committee was appointed by the government to advise on immigration issues in July 2017. There are currently conducting a study into the positional of EEA nationals in the UK labour market. The final report is due in September 2018.

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