A leading business immigration lawyer has predicted that pre-referendum pledges to reduce immigration will ‘not survive’ Brexit and claimed the process will actually lead to great net immigration to the UK.
With Brexit continuing to bring uncertainty across business there are conflicting reports on how it will affect immigration. Sajid Javid claims that the government will control the ‘number and type’ of people allowed to live and work in the UK, Migration Watch UK predicts a 100,000 increase in net migration.
Recent statistics show that while EEA migration has dropped sharply, non-EEA net migration is at its highest level for 15 years, with the government further than ever from its target of “tens, not hundreds of thousands” a year.
Matthew Davies, a partner at Midlands law firm Wright Hassall, said: “The general idea was that leaving the EU would allow the UK to ‘take control’ over immigration, implying more stringent restrictions on those coming to live and work here. The reality is more nuanced.
“Changes are being implemented,” he says, “but they are not necessarily following the path that many predicted. It is hard to see how the pre-referendum manifesto pledge to reduce annual net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ will survive Brexit. A UK economy exposed to new headwinds and with less funding for skills training and wages will be more dependent than ever on migrant labour.
“The irony is that leaving the EU will, in the longer term, increase net economic migration to the UK, both legal and illegal, whatever people thought they were voting for,” says Hassall.
Last December, a White Paper was published which set out the government’s plans to introduce a new single immigration system, ending free movement. Matthew, who has more than 20 years’ experience in business immigration law, said the paper suffered from a ‘striking lack of detail’. The publication of the Immigration White Paper in December heralded a new system but quietly pointed towards modification and re-packaging rather than wholesale change.
“After all, the current Points Based System for non-EEA economic migration was finalised only a decade ago,” Davies adds. “It was expensive to introduce then, and there is less public money now. There was a striking lack of detail in the White Paper.
“The overall thrust, though, is toward a relaxation and liberalisation of controls, including the abandonment of the Resident Labour Market Test, the lowering of skills thresholds and special schemes for low-skilled work in areas such as hospitality, the care sector and horticulture where the loss of EEA free movement will hit hardest.”