Home Secretary - non-EEA immigration - EEA immigration after Brexit

16 October 2018
The history of a country such as England shows something interesting about migration and psychology. For many centuries waves of overseas conquerors have come here. But when they become settled each wave defends what they regard as “their land” against new waves of conquerors.

Something vaguely similar was evident at the recent 2018 Conservative Party conference although - fortunately - the context was less violent than that of the military conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, in a speech to the multitude, said that he thought that the English language test for British citizenship was too easy and that he intended to make it harder. The Life in the UK test is, he says disparagingly, like a “pub quiz”, and he strongly believes that a shared competent level of English is an important means of social integration around what he calls “British values”.

But he is in a slightly difficult position here because his parents both came from Pakistan and, as he candidly and rather touchingly admits (to a journalist from the Guardian after the conference), it took his mother more than ten years to learn English after coming to the UK. Does he feel uncomfortable that the sort of reforms he intends to introduce would make it impossible for people like his father - who came to the UK in the early 1960s and got a job as a bus driver - to come here?

But, being a politician, he has of course a cogent argument to defend his position. When his father came to the UK the UK needed unskilled labour. But things have changed and now the UK needs skilled - or even highly-skilled - workers.

So, you might say, history repeats itself, but at least on a relatively rational basis.

Not surprisingly Mr Javid also had things to say about EEA immigration after Brexit.

Brexit is both a highly topical and highly confusing subject and the normal person will surely find it difficult to easily gain a clear understanding of it from the daily blow-by-blow accounts in the media. But in terms of immigration at least things are relatively clear. Although “Brexit day” is 29 March 2019, EEA nationals will have a while after that to sort themselves out. There will be a transition period until 31 December 2020 and only after that will they encounter the fully post-Brexit world.

It was always obvious political wisdom that EEA nationals are going to lose some or all of the immigration rights they hold - which are very great compared to the rights held by non-EEA nationals. Mr Javid confirmed that this will indeed be the case. And he also talked about unskilled immigration. At present EEA nationals, however skilled or unskilled they may be, can come just come to the UK and find work.

After Brexit, he says, there will be a “skills-based” immigration regime for EEA nationals. This is a quick way of saying that skilled migrants will be able to apply and non-skilled migrants will not.

This means that EEA nationals will find themselves in a similar position to that in which non-EEA nationals currently find themselves. The main working visa route for non-EEA nationals is the Tier 2 scheme, which by its very nature engenders skilled migration. It is through other routes - such as family visas and dependant visas - that unskilled non-EEA migrants can come to the UK.

What we do not yet know is whether EEA nationals will have their own special skilled visa route or whether they will be subject to the same visa routes as all the others. But one thing is surely very likely, particularly bearing in mind some of his comments about the English language: EEA nationals will encounter an English language requirement when they apply for visas. At present there is no English language requirement for them until they reach the stage of applying for British citizenship and the “pub quiz”, and we strongly imagine that this must change.
This all raises one big question: if the unskilled workers that the UK needs will no longer come from Europe, where will they come from? Well, presumably they should come from the UK, but employers are always telling us British people are simply not prepared to take these kinds of jobs. If this turns out to be truly the case and the economy suffers then perhaps the Home Office might permit limited unskilled immigration.

Ancient students of UK immigration will remember that a few years ago, when it created the points-based system, the Home Office created a “Tier 3” for unskilled workers, but it never came into operation. But perhaps it will after all.


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