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UK's current immigration system will scare Europeans off coming here post Brexit

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Posted on August 03rd 2017

What do we know about immigration reforms after Brexit?

Free movement received a kicking from all sides ahead of the EU referendum. But over the past couple of weeks, deep divisions have been exposed in the government over the future of immigration policy after Brexit.

In the cold light of day, Jeremy Hunt, Phillip Hammond and even home secretary Amber Rudd seem to have realized what a crucial role EU workers play in the UK economy & public services. They have been calling for EU workers to continue coming here during a transitional period after Brexit, to avoid a damaging ‘cliff-edge’ for some employers.

Counter-attacks have come from hard Brexiteers in the Cabinet including Liam Fox - and Downing Street this week slapped down the idea that free movement would be continued in its current form, even temporarily, after March 2019.

So, with a mess at the top, what does all this signify for migrants’ rights after Brexit?

Firstly, it’s likely that a transitional period of up to three years will be agreed after Brexit on 29th March 2019. This could see free movement continue in its current form. Alternatively, it could see EU workers coming here required to register on arrival – perhaps similarly to the former Worker Registration Scheme for central and East European nationals from 2004 – 2011. Thus far debate has focused on EU workers, leaving a question mark over rules for EU students, family members and self-sufficient persons. Ultimately, the final word on the terms of any transitional period will be determined by Brexit negotiations over the coming weeks and months.

Importantly, this debate has also given us an indication of Government’s longer-term priorities for post-Brexit immigration policy. And ministers seem to be suffering from a collective myopia, looking only to soothe UK plc ahead of a bumpy ride.

Last week Amber Rudd commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to review the role of EEA nationals across the UK economy in order to shape future immigration policy. This exercise seems aimed at gaining intelligence on how employers may be ‘weaned off’ EU migrant labour and how, if they cannot, the immigration rules can facilitate the minimum number of migrants who are needed.

But the views of employers will only ever be part of the story.

If the UK wants to benefit from the contributions of EEA nationals in the future, Government needs to take a long, hard look at what will attract or deter them from coming here. This is where organisations like JCWI, with years of experience in advising non-EEA nationals on the immigration rules, also have an important story to tell.

In our view, without wide-reaching reforms to tackle the absurdly high fees, stripping back of appeal rights, increasingly punitive rules, insecurity and hostility embedded within the immigration system itself, many EEA nationals simply will not want to come here in future. Why would those who could freely work or study anywhere else across the EU choose to subject themselves to the UK immigration system as it stands?

JCWI has been advocating a much more ambitious set of immigration reforms after Brexit.

Our view is that new rules for EU nationals cannot be developed or implemented without also looking at non-EEA rules. We want to see a wider commitment to improving the system for all.

Bringing tens or even hundreds of thousands of EU nationals under domestic immigration control in the future will have huge implications for decision-makers, for communities and for migrants themselves. Non-EEA immigration is also likely to be at the heart of future trade deals with Australia, India and the USA. It is crucial that, with so many changes on the horizon, we have an honest debate about where immigration policy has gone wrong in recent years. Immigration has been allowed to become a toxic issue, with rules tightened to punish those who come here and contribute

Over the coming months JCWI will be continuing to debate post-Brexit immigration policy. Please join us in calling for changes to make immigration rules fairer, more honest, and keep the UK an attractive and welcoming country into the future.

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