What will happen with immigration if there is a Brexit?


There is much speculation over the future of the United Kingdom. The public are torn between the influx of refugees and migrants entering the UK and the tragedy of the biggest global crisis of our generation. It is fair to say, that it isn’t an easy issue to resolve. The Conservative government have not been able to give a clear answer as to the negotiations with the EU and the outcomes of exiting or remaining part of the EU. Immigration practitioners are questioning the future of the UK and what changes may come into effect for immigration policies.


What would happen to free movement?

The biggest advantage of EU membership is free movement. If the UK breaks from the EU, European nationals and UK nationals would lose their free movement rights. The UK could emulate the Swiss system, where EU nationals may travel to and from the country but would face light administrative registration after arrival. If an EU national resides in the UK for three months or longer, a valid employment contract, evidence of self-employment, or in the case of there not being in gainful employment, proof of financial independence and full private health insurance coverage will be necessary[1]. This system would disable EU nationals from having access to welfare benefits and the NHS.


What would happen to EU nationals already in the UK?

EU nationals in the UK, arguably, won’t be forced to leave. They will of course need to demonstrate their right to live and work in the UK. If there is a Brexit, a registration system is likely to be put in place, similar to the Worker Registration Scheme process that existed for new EU member states between 2004 -2011. The government will need to decide whether to automatically offer permanent residence to EU nationals already here. At present, one can apply for permanent residency if they have been in the UK for a continuous period of five years of more.


What would happen to British workers living in Europe?

There are 27 members in the EU, meaning there could be 27 answers to that question. It seems probable that Brexit and the sanctions imposed on EU nationals would be responded in kind. That would probably mean a registration regime for Brits already on the continent and a work permit regime for new entrants


Would the current immigration system need to change?

Currently, the UK immigration system is designed to fill skills shortages in degree-level jobs. If restrictions are placed for EU workers, there may be a need to cater to lower-skills workers. The 2011 UK Census found a high proportion of EU workers in hospitality, manufacturing and construction. The government needs to understand that if it becomes harder to recruit EU nationals, labour shortages would emerge in these sectors.

The Migration Advisory Committee published their report on skilled workers on 19 January 2016. The Committee made a number of recommendations designed to reduce the number of skilled non-EU workers coming to the UK. Some of these changes included the increase of migrant salaries, longer employment period for intra-company switches and £1,000 per sponsored worker per year paid alongside Certificate of Sponsorship fees[2]. If the UK decides to leave the EU, multi-national companies may choose to base work in different countries. Arguably, this will ensure that the training of British-based people to do jobs where there are shortages in long-term occupations increase, however, the idea of long-term training and filling short-term shortages with skilled migrants by paying huge amount of monies, is unlikely to attract those big companies to come and invest in the UK and create jobs here.


How long will it take?

In the event there is a Brexit, it will take year to extricate the UK from the EU paradigm. Transitional arrangements might be imposed a few months after the referendum results, but a detailed and finalised immigration system is likely to emerge only in the years following the results. Some estimate this will take two years, others think it could be as much as ten years.



David Cameron has called for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU to take place on 23 June 2016. Primarily, problems with the UK immigration system is what sparked the Brexit debate. However, it is fundamental that all aspects of the EU and UK membership is considered. Some of the key attributes of the membership include but are not limited to: diplomatic protection of citizens, free movement of persons and trade, international Courts for cross-border resolution and an international bank.

Please consider your future and the future of many generations after when using your vote for the UK to stay or leave the EU.


Good luck!

3 April 2016

Ebru Bayir

[1] https://www.eda.admin.ch/dea/en/home/bilaterale-abkommen/ueberblick/personenfreizuegigkeit.html

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-advisory-committee-mac-review-tier-2-migration


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