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Analysis

Leaked migration proposals would damage UK in 4 ways

by Luke Lythgoe | 06.09.2017

The government’s half-formed plans for migration after Brexit, revealed in a draft document leaked to the Guardian, would damage the UK in four ways. The economy will suffer as hard-working EU nationals are put off Britain and employers struggle with staff shortages. Both the details and tone of the proposals risk poisoning Brexit talks. Brits’ rights in the EU will be diminished: whatever restrictions we place on them, we can expect the same for us. And new red tape will choke businesses, the civil service, potential migrant workers and Brits moving to the EU.

The government’s tone is already backfiring diplomatically. Elmar Brok, chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party,  has claimed the “harsh language” of the proposals will “increase the lack of credibility and deepen mistrust” the EU has for the UK during Brexit talks. It will also discourage new EU migrants from travelling to the UK while alienating those already working here. Migration statistics – currently only available for the year up to March 2017 – already show a sharp drop in EU net migration to 127,000 since the referendum result.

Here are four noteworthy elements of the draft proposals.

1. Different work visas

The new system looks set to differentiate between “highly skilled” and “low-skilled” migrants, along the same lines as the UK’s policy for non-EU migrants now. Highly skilled workers will get longer work visas than low skilled, plus the chance to settle permanently with any dependent family members.

The question is how to differentiate between the two. A “reasonable, but specific, income threshold” is one proposed option. The current rules for skilled non-EU workers sets this at £30,000 with exceptions for some low-paid but highly skilled jobs. A skills assessment or simple cap on numbers is also suggested. But many of the EU workers our economy relies upon wouldn’t meet these criteria. Could they even be tempted over if they knew their stay was limited, or would they rather find work in another EU country? Where does it leave entrepreneurs and those who wish to start a new business?

2. Red tape for UK employers seeking EU workers

In a bid to prioritise British workers, the government is suggesting an “economic needs test” for employers to prove they cannot find UK workers and must look abroad. This bureaucratic burden will be time-consuming, which is particularly unworkable for seasonal sectors such as agriculture.

During the implementation phase employers will need to check their EU employees’ right to work, as they do now. In the long term the government wants to introduce a sponsorship scheme whereby employers will need to issue EU workers with a certificate of sponsorship.

The new system will include ways to ensure “all relevant organisations are playing their part in controlling migration”. Current rules around non-EU workers say employers can be sent to jail for five years and pay an unlimited fine if found guilty of employing someone they knew or had “reasonable cause to believe” didn’t have the right to work in the UK.

3. Rights of family members

The government wants to restrict family members’ residency rights to partners, children under 18 and any adult family member who may be dependent for health or other reasons. This sounds fair, but it’s nothing the UK cannot do already.

The government’s paper claims under EU law there is “virtually no limit to the distance between the EU citizen and the extended family member” wishing to join them in the UK. As Steve Peers, professor of EU law at Essex University, points out this is highly misleading. The EU treaties have a very similar definition of non-EU family members who can join EU citizens, with a clear distinction between these and extended family members set out in EU case law.

The government’s tabloid-style distortion of EU law will not impress EU negotiators.

4. Phasing in the new migration rules

The planned “implementation phase” may not prove as “smooth and orderly” as the government suggests. Predicted to last “at least two years”, this phase will presumably mirror any transitional period. But the government insists the EU’s Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and long-term EU visitors will need to register, a process requiring them to provide their fingerprints. EU negotiators may baulk at a transition which imposes such restrictions on their citizens.

Throughout this document the government puts anti-immigration dogma above economic and diplomatic sense. It’s probably too much to hope the backlash against this leak from Europe and British business will make them rethink the final draft.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Leaked migration proposals would damage UK in 4 ways”

  • Already the language employed ( and the attitude it reveals of the authors) will have disastrous effects on the other 27 EU countries. After forty years of co-habitation where nationality was somehow irrelevant, the new priority for UK nationals has a sort of fascist ring about it as if the welfare of the Brits ( in fact the English ) in this global world can be achieved without regard to what is happening to our neighbours whose economies are so intimately linked to ours.
    And then the involvement of central government in determining whom companies can and can not employ is taking us back to Soviet style economic management.
    And all of this from a Conservative government ? I really wonder just how long the present government and its Brexiteers can continue to maintain itself in office.

  • The proposed laws on the movement of EU nationals are an economic disaster. Unhappily they are likely to be popular; they are a cynical response to those who voted Brexit; a doctrine that ignored ecomics but exploited a genuine grievance. There were and still are regions who complain that immigration cut wages, made housing the shortage even worse and resulted in schools where in some classes the majority of pupils spoke no English.
    All solvable by effective trade unions an aggressive housing programme, more money spent on education.