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The forgotten issues of future migration policy

24 Apr 2018

Ian Robinson, an immigration law partner at Fragomen Worldwide, discusses the current balance of Government immigration action in the face of Brexit.

There will be people who disagree, but I’d say the Home Office has done a decent job with their Brexit immigration policies for the three or four million Europeans living here and those who enter during the Brexit transition. That said, there are two big ticket items that still need sorting and the science community should be talking about both.

First though, the good stuff – the deals that the UK and EU have agreed‎ on citizens rights. Almost exactly the same deals have been agreed for the 3 or 4 million EU nationals living here before we leave the EU on 28 March 2019 and any who enter between then and the Brexit end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020.

Both groups will be entitled to live here and will be able to apply for settled status when they have five years residence. The application will not be prohibitively expensive for most people (no more than £72) and they’ll be able to apply from most mobile (on their) phones on a very smart app. Those entering during the transition period will probably need to make a second application, but it sounds like that could be simple and digital too. There’s a lot more to the policy – don’t plan your life on this paragraph – but the framework is pretty solid.

There is work to be done by Home Office operations to help harder to reach and vulnerable people register, but officials are going about the problem in the right way. They want to understand which groups could struggle to apply, which groups might need help and who can connect with them.

For me we are pretty much on track, save for two significant (huge) but somehow slightly hidden or forgotten issues. 

First off, what happens if there’s no deal? Right now the government is refusing to state publicly that EU nationals living here will get to stay, if the deal falls apart. I don’t believe they’d actually kick them out – we aren’t that country – but I’ve met people who are genuinely worried about it. Politicians should surely be trying to remove their anxiety, not sustain it.

‎My second concern is for people who don’t register before the final cut off in June 2021 (as the Home Office have indicated that they will allow people to register for an additional six months after the end of the transition period.) The UK EU deal essentially says that people with a good reason for failing to register will be forgiven. For the rest, the Home Office could extend their hostile environment policies to them, making it difficult or impossible to take a job, rent a flat, open a bank account or get a driving licence. The hostile environment doesn’t start and end there for non-compliant migrants, they can find their lives in limbo for years, until the Home Office decide if they can stay in the UK.

Who wouldn’t apply? You’ll basically have three groups and I’m betting there’ll be scientists among them. 

The first group are the can’ts, people who aren’t able to apply because of physical or mental challenges. That group will probably be forgiven but it won’t be nice when then rub up against the hostile environment.

Then you have the don’ts, people who are capable of applying but just don’t know about it. Have you ever met a scientist who doesn’t follow the news? I certainly have.

Then you have the won’ts, the conscientious objectors who stubbornly refuse on principle. I know a few scientists who’ll fall into that camp too.

It isn’t unreasonable for the Home Office to expect people to apply on time, nor is it unreasonable for them to be frustrated with people who don’t even try. But those people need to be treated with respect and dignity, as members of and contributors to the UK. 

We need the Home Office to confirm that people who don’t apply on time will be allowed to move house, get a job, get a bank account and driving licence. We also need to know that their case will be considered quickly, even if their only excuse is stubbornness and principle. 

Without that assurance the lives of a lot of scientists could get an awful lot more difficult.

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