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A week or three is a long time in immigration policy

August 20th 2019

Claire Thomas questions the latest UK Government shift on immigration policy and the proposal to end Free Movement on Brexit day

Only a few weeks has passed since Boris Johnson became PM and announced that he wanted to attract the “brightest talents” to the UK, promising to give EU Citizens living here “absolute certainty of the right to live and remain” after Brexit. We welcomed this statement, but the new announcement to end free movement on Brexit day, (less than eight weeks away and counting) is a concerning move away from the new government’s starting position.

The government is still in the process of consulting on what the new immigration system will look like. We, along with other stakeholders in Wales, have been responding to the various consultations because we want to ensure that the new system is as thought through and considered as it can be and importantly, works for the needs of Wales.

However, this new proposal is an unnecessary and unwanted move which will have implications for businesses, the NHS and Social Care Sector, Welsh Universities and importantly those EU Citizens currently living and working in Wales.

So, why is this a change?

The ending of Freedom of Movement represents the biggest change to the immigration system in 40 years. It has been widely accepted that a transitionary phase, along with consultation with stakeholders, is the best way of ensuring that the system that replaces it is fair and works for all.

Theresa May’s original plan was to keep the current Freedom of Movement in place until 2021 and roll out the EU Settlement Scheme. For those already residing in the UK and wishing to stay beyond the transition period they will need to apply for leave to remain through this scheme. For those coming to the UK after leaving the EU there would be a transitory period which would allow workers short-term entry to the UK and help protect certain sectors which rely on EU migrant workers.

These temporary proposals are now uncertain – as is the status of those EU citizens who have not yet applied. Currently, only a third of the 3.5 million EU citizens who currently live in the UK have applied.

What impact will this have in Wales?

With little time remaining, it raises significant questions and concerns for businesses in Wales; How will they know what the rules are? How does it affect them if they are currently recruiting from the EU? Will there be issues recruiting people who have not yet applied for settled status?

What does this mean for our NHS and social care sectors that rely on EU migrants?

The announcement has also led to widespread concerns about protecting those EU citizens who have not yet applied for settled status. Where does this leave them, and does it run the risk of another Windrush scandal?

And the major sticking point – there is currently no system in place. It begs the question if is this even realistic given the time frame? There doesn’t appear to be any precedence for the Home Office setting anything up as quickly as would be required, and why should we be rushing to create something so challenging as this? There is simply no need to end Free Movement so abruptly.

The Welsh Government should ensure it’s voice is heard …. Now!

The Welsh Government must challenge this policy announcement, to ensure it lives up to the strong stance it has previously taken on protecting the rights of EU Citizens already living in Wales.

This decision also raises the question of Wales’ position and reaffirms our concerns that the impact of migration in Wales is habitually ignored by the UK Government. We will continue to make the case for why Wales needs in-migration and our support for regional variations. We believe that the National Assembly for Wales should have the right to decide who comes to live, work and study in Wales.

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