With six months to go until the UK leaves the EU, the Government is yet to give a firm indication of what migration arrangements will be implemented post-Brexit. Migration was a defining issue in the UK’s June 2016 referendum on EU membership, which divided many and still continues to do so. Time is running out before the UK leaves the EU in March next year and the position on migration in the UK post Brexit is yet to be made clear.

The details of a future immigration system are to be set out in a White Paper on Immigration, but its publication date has been set back a number of times. The latest update is that it will be published in the autumn of 2018 with an Immigration Bill expected in early next year.

The delays to the publication of the White Paper on Immigration and the Immigration Bill, coupled with no clear stance from the Government has created uncertainty of what the UK’s future migration policy will be, which has unwanted repercussions. Following the referendum back in 2016, the number of EU citizens coming to work in the UK is estimated to have fallen by nearly a third and according to the Office of National Statistics, EU net migration is at its lowest level since 2012 leading to a significant number of employment vacancies that businesses are struggling to fill.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that one of her main focusses in Brexit negotiations is that free movement of people between the EU and the UK should end and we will control the number of people who come to live in the UK. This stance was confirmed in the White Paper, ‘The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, published by the Government on 12th July 2018.

The proposals on migration contained in the White Paper are extremely limited. During the transition period, EU citizens can continue to benefit from the present regime, but this will change after the transition period is over. The White Paper states that the Government is willing to allow EU nationals to continue to have visa free access to the UK for tourism and temporary business activity and to allow EU students to study in the UK, but does not offer any detail concerning long-term migration for people to move closer to families, or for permanent work or study.

There was little further detail contained in the White Paper on how migration arrangements could work post Brexit. The only definitive answer we have at this moment is that the Withdrawal Agreement will contain rules for those who have already established residence in the UK. In mid-September, further detail on this issue was provided when the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released a report. The report stated that Britain should not give preferential treatment to European Union workers in its post-Brexit immigration system but should prioritize the higher-skilled. 

However, until further policy papers are released, it is difficult at this point in time to give a comprehensive overview of what the migration arrangements will look like in the aftermath of the UK leaving the EU and its free movement of people behind. This is clearly an issue which is still dividing Parliament and remains subject to lengthy negotiation.