Implications of Brexit: Immigration

June 24, 2016

Employers must now plan for the consequences of the EU referendum decision. The uncertainty is likely to impact economically but for HR and HR legal the questions are what is likely to change and when?

One of the biggest issues in the EU referendum debate has been immigration. Will the outcome make any real difference to the number of EU nationals migrating to the UK, or to those who are here already?

In the short term, pending our negotiation of the withdrawal treaty, the answer is no, though the situation remains uncertain to say the least. The ability of EU nationals to move freely, work and live in member states (including the UK) will continue. In the longer term, though, if EU citizens here and abroad are no longer part of a free movement arrangement then all of its citizens abroad would have to regularise their position, possibly requiring them to make specific applications to do so.

Domestic political pressure will be to cut EU migration, but implementing a points based system for EU nationals will be subject to agreement with the EU as part of our withdrawal. This may be hard to achieve.

Statistics suggest there are around three million EU nationals living in the UK. The vast majority of them may now be subject to additional control. Does it really make sense to subject those currently living and working here to the rigours of a points based system? Three million applications is a huge number for the Home Office to process and a massive burden for the State. Mistakes will be made, resulting in appeals and further cost, as well as further upheaval.

To reduce the number of migrants cuts may need to be made to workers with skills and qualifications that are needed currently by UK businesses. Sectors like technology, IT, health, hospitality, manufacturing and agriculture will be hardest hit.

Immigration status for EU nationals will depend on the terms of the withdrawal agreement. So for now, the situation remains uncertain and until we know more, there is no immediate or substantive change.

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