With just under a month to go until the UK’s vote on the EU Independence on 23 June 2016, the campaigns for remaining a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) or exiting the EU have heated up significantly. There’s no doubt that the arguments from both sides of the fence remain strong, unwavering and just plain confusing to the British public who get to decide on this historically long held debate. The immigration consequences of the outcome of this vote will not only impact EEA nationals and their non-EEA family members, many UK businesses are also concerned about the impact a UK exit from the EU will have on their businesses and our business clients have advised us that they have had increases in enquiries from their staff on how this will impact their immigration status in the UK. We have outlined the key immigration issues raised by the upcoming referendum.
Immigration Implications for Brexit
The free movement of people is one of the four economic principles of the EU. Therefore in theory a UK exit from the EU would mean that EU nationals would no longer have the automatic right to reside and work in the UK, and vice versa unless they had already obtained permanent residency. In the event of Brexit, however, the UK may have to agree to continued freedom of movement in exchange for access to the Single Market. The argument raised by the Leave campaigners is that the UK would be entitled to decide its immigration policy, however proposed ideas for what those policies would be remains to be seen.
Those on the remain campaign rightly point out that there are many benefits of migration to the United Kingdom from both EEA and non-EEA countries as immigration plays a significant role in increasing tax revenue and supporting economic growth. Therefore the changes to immigration as a whole will be an area of policy to watch out for if the UK votes to leave the EU.
If the UK Votes “Leave”
Many of the speculation and theories around the biggest consequence of a vote to leave is that should the UK vote to leave the EU it will as a consequence no longer be bound by free movement of members from the EU.
It is difficult to speculate on whether having a right of permanent residency in the UK will be crucial to EEA nationals should the UK vote to leave EU. We have continued to receive a lot of enquiries about obtaining permanent residency. Many may well choose to obtain this right in order to confirm their right to residence and to obtain proof of such ahead of the outcome of the vote in June.
In the United Kingdom, the current rules governing a right of permanent residence fall under Regulation 15 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 (EEA Regulations). Regulation 18 of the EEA Regulations governs the documents which can be held as evidence of a right of permanent residence. In the case of EEA citizens, this is known as a “document certifying permanent residence”, for a non-EEA family member; this is known as a “permanent residence card”.
Even if the United Kingdom does leave the European Union and net migration is significantly reduced which has been the focus of UK immigration policy for the last few years, another possible immigration impact of Brexit is the relaxing of controls on skilled migration which could potentially relieve some of the barriers to growth imposed by current UK Immigration policy, which prevents many companies from recruiting skilled workers. The government intends to further tighten restrictions, despite the evidence by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that such restrictions are likely to further damage productivity and growth.
For some businesses who employ a lot of EU and EEA nationals, their concern is that if the UK were to exit the EU, they will be required to hire EU and EEA workers, through the current immigration rules which are in place for businesses and employers hiring skilled workers from outside the EEA. The current rules require that the company/business/employer will need to obtain a sponsor license in order to be able to hire the worker.
The significance of the referendum for immigration policy will only become clearer during the weeks and months and possibly years following the vote. What seems certain, though, is that the outcome of the referendum could have a huge impact on the British social, economical and political landscape – with immigration implications for EEA nationals, their non EEA family members and businesses across the UK.
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