Access Denied: UK to ban more EU citizens with criminal records beginning in 2021

October 31, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Home Office has announced that as of Friday 1 January 2021, EU citizens will be subject to the same travel regulations as foreign nationals — meaning those with criminal records could be denied entry to the UK if deemed necessary to ensure the safety of British citizens.

What does this mean?

As a previous EU Member State, the UK’s immigration rules applied differently to EU citizens than to foreign nationals. In accordance with the principle of free movement of people (a fundamental tenet of participation in the EU single market), border officials are only allowed to restrict entry to the UK where EU offenders pose a genuine, present and serious threat to society.

However, once the post-Brexit transition period ends, EU offenders will be subject to the same restrictions as foreign criminals. This will give border and immigration officials far greater powers to deny entry. Beginning Friday January 1 2021, EU citizens who have served more than one year in jail will be prohibited from entering the UK. Entry restrictions may also be imposed on individuals who have criminal sentences of less than a year, as well as those who have never served jail time but whose presence in the UK “damages the public good”. Under these new regulations, tens of thousands of EU nationals risk being refused entry to the UK

What's the big picture effect?

According to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, this regulatory change is to be viewed favourably. She suggests that domestic safety will improve when the UK is no longer forced to allow entry to foreign criminals who “abuse the UK values and threaten its way of life”. However, former EU Security Commissioner, Julian King, suggests that current lack of a long-term trade agreement between the UK and EU instead poses significant concerns for the proposed immigration measures. 

Most notably, failure to reach a long-term trade agreement with the EU could result in Britain losing access to internal security databases; including passenger name records, the European Criminal Records Information System and the Schengen Information System (which provides real-time law enforcement alerts). Without access to these databases, the process of obtaining criminal records will be considerably slower than at present. Not only could this have a serious impact on the ability to identify arriving offenders and the efficacy of border control as a whole, it will likely also indirectly result in longer wait times for all airport travellers. 

Furthermore, the new regulations may threaten the status of EU citizens residing in the UK. Although those with immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, criminal acts committed after the current agreement with the EU has ended could result in this status being revoked and the citizen in question forced to return to their home country. With this in mind, immigration lawyers domestically and abroad are likely to see a rise in claims for both wrongful expulsion and denial of entry.

Whether these tougher border rules will truly result in a ‘firmer and fairer’ process (as suggested by Priti Patel) remains to be seen. The real test will come as of January 1, once the border officially closes and the new rules take effect.

Report written by Jade Jordan

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