5 March, 2018
1. The opening up of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy for negotiation with the EU risks seriously disappointing the public’s expectation that Brexit will lead to a sharp reduction in immigration from the EU.
2. The desire for control and reduction of EU immigration was a decisive factor in the referendum result of June 2016. Ipsos Mori found it to be by far the most important issue for voters just before they went to the polls, while most voters felt that Brexit would lead to a reduction in immigration (NatCen Social Research).
3. However, the Prime Minister has now implied that the UK’s future migration system will be a matter for negotiation with the EU. Independent states do not normally negotiate major aspects of their immigration policies with other states.
4. There are a number of aspects where ease of access is important to both sides and where negotiation is hardly necessary – for example ease of access for tourists, visitors and business visitors. It would be sufficient in these cases to agree on visa free access. Something similar would be needed for students.
5. The key issue, however, is migration for work. We have proposed that EU workers be incorporated into the existing UK work permit scheme. This would have a major impact in reducing the numbers since those in lower-skilled jobs comprise nearly 80% of arrivals over the last decade.
6. The government will no doubt consider whether or not it would be appropriate to set a cap on the number of highly-skilled EU work permits issued each year (see our paper).
7. In this context, a number of EU member states, including Austria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Latvia – apply various types of annual quota on non-EU migration.
8. In addition, the EU should, in principle, have no grounds for objecting to UK arrangements focused on attracting highly skilled workers since their flagship Blue Card scheme does just that (see our paper, ‘Arrangements for skilled Britons seeking to work in the European Union after Brexit’, April 2017).