Right Foot in, Left Foot out, Shake it all About: The state of UK immigration post-Brexit

September 27, 2020

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

On 1 January 2021, the freedom of movement of Swiss and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals to the UK will end, changing the landscape of movement rights, immigration and visas in the UK, as well as the nation’s relationship with the rest of the world.

What does this mean?

Over the summer, the government released a detailed account of how immigration will function in the UK  from 2021. The first major difference will be that non-EU and EU citizens will be treated identically: a universal “permission to travel” requirement will be introduced on a phased basis until 2025, meaning that anyone other than British or Irish nationals travelling to the UK will need to seek permission to do so in advance. For basic travel, a visa and a passport will be required (as opposed to national ID cards). EU, EEA and Swiss citizens already in the UK can nevertheless stay after Brexit by applying to the novel EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021. 

The truly singular aspect of the new policy concerns workers: they will henceforth be granted permission to stay in the UK after evaluation on a point-based system (PBS), assessing their skills, education, English proficiency, and a guarantee of being paid the minimum wage. Some say the system resembles the Australian PBS, but it differs significantly since Australia does not require a job offer. Migrants to the UK must score 70 “points” to be eligible, 50 of which are not “tradeable” and each criterion accumulates a different amount of points.

The UK government also plans to install a “global talent scheme” open to EEA, EU and Swiss citizens under which highly-skilled researchers and scientists can enter the UK without a job offer. 

Student visa routes will be open to students, without favouring citizens from the European continent, and students will need to (i) have been offered a place on a course, (ii) speak English and (iii) have sufficient resources to support themselves and their studies.

What's the big picture effect?

Brexit will undoubtedly limit hiring capacities and the flora of the British job market, and for companies operating in the UK. EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible to be employed in the UK for lower skilled roles, just as is the case for non-EEA nationals at present. However, applicants for lower paid roles will only qualify for a visa if there is a shortage or if the individual holds a PhD. Under the new point-based system, the government predicts that employers will have to adjust to demand by investing in labour-saving technologies like automation. Moreover, the need to prove a job offer from a sponsored employer greatly limits the possibilities of employment, since not all employers have those licences. 

A major controversy around the scheme is the stigma associated with “low-skilled” jobs: many lower-paid occupations still require a range of skills which are neglected by the PBS, rendering visa eligibility impossible for many. 

Ending free movement is expected to make recruiting skilled EU workers more difficult, as they will be put off by the increased expense and bureaucracy. This may herald a negative domino-effect on the UK economy. That said, research suggests that the impact of limiting lower-skilled workers will be minor.

For the time being, the scale of the economic impact and the fall in immigration are difficult to predict. Details such as the advantages of licenced employers and the definition of “shortage occupation” jobs will contribute to shaping the future of the British immigration landscape and job market.

Report written by Anaïs Itani

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