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Don’t panic – Brexit and immigration

26 Jul 2016

Ian Robinson, an immigration law partner at Fragomen Worldwide, discusses what Brexit will mean for immigration and how he is advising his clients.

I can’t begin to imagine how many opportunities and challenges the EU referendum result poses for UK science, although I understand from friends in science that they may not balance one another out.

Immigration won’t be at the top of either list but it will be an important consideration over the next few years. If the free movement of EU nationals is replaced by an Australian Point Based System it will only get harder to recruit talent from our neighbours in Europe.

It might consequently become less difficult to bring in non-Europeans, but I doubt it will be that much easier. You don’t leave Europe to control migration and then have an open door policy for everybody in the world.

The science community will engage with policy makers as things develop but that is for another day. For now, the real concern is how to support and retain the people already here.

I’ve spent a fortnight talking to businesses in every sector about immigration. Every conversation starts in the same way – “what does this mean for our EU staff and what should we be doing?”  The question almost seems more pressing for science.  I suspect that because most post-doc researchers taking fixed term contracts there feels like an added time pressure on them and their employers, even though that is probably artificial.

This is my advice:

1. Don’t panic. The world might be changing but it hasn’t happened yet. We have a new Prime Minister, but it is likely to be a while before new policy is in place following negotiations.

2. It is unlikely that your EU employees will be told to leave the UK. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has refused to say that they will be allowed to stay. It isn’t a line I would take but I see her point – she’ll guarantee the position of EU nationals here when Europe does the same for British nationals. Frankly though I’d be astounded if people had to leave; it would be an appalling way to treat people and I don’t believe the public would stand for it.

3. That said, I do believe people will need to register their presence. If free movement goes we will need visas and work permission for the next EU nationals to come over. That means people already here will need to complete some sort of registration to prove they already have a life in the UK.  Otherwise how will they demonstrate it after a weekend overseas or while looking for a job?

4. There will be people who don’t want to wait for that. I’ve spoken to lots of Europeans who want to formalise their stay here, to be certain their status is secure. If they’ve been here for an extended period, normally five years, they may be eligible for permanent residence and afterwards apply for British citizenship. The law is rather more complex than those few sentences so we have recorded webcasts in a variety of languages that people can access for free, if they would like to know more about the process.

5. My final bit of advice is to tell people what you can.  You need to be careful about promising everyone will be fine, of course, but just understanding the route to British citizenship can be enough to reassure people. It might not be everything they want to hear, but in an uncertain world I’d hope its better than nothing.

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