Free movement ‘could stay’ amid immigration system failings

The UK government could be forced to retain free movement of EU citizens “possibly for several years post-Brexit” because it will not be possible to implement a new immigration regime by 2019.

A report from the Institute for Government (IfG) says that the UK government faces problems such as taking into account the rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK, the mechanism for future EU migration, how any new system will be enforced and any border changes.“The political imperative for change in immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge of making such a change happen,” says the report.“The scale of the task makes successful implementation of a new immigration regime by April 2019 unfeasible, not just for government, who will need to design and deliver the regime, but also the employers, landlords and providers of public services who both rely on the system and support its functioning.”

Task “impossible in two years”

IfG believes that even the task of registering and issuing new documentation to the three million EU nationals already in the UK will be impossible to achieve in two years.“The UK will need to provide EU nationals with the relevant documentation confirming residency in the UK, and member states will be responsible for doing the same for British citizens in the EU. The challenge for government is processing a possible three million applications with a system designed to manage a fraction of that. The Home Office needs either significant numbers of additional staff or a redesign of the process, or, better still, both.”The reports says the government could decide to keep the current immigration regime for a period post-Brexit to make way for a ‘phased implementation’ of a new system, pointing out that, unlike trade, immigration policy can be dictated by the UK alone.“But swift action is a priority, and securing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and control of the UK’s borders are likely to be two of any new government’s biggest priorities,” the report adds.
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Current system not fit for purpose

IfG described the current system for registering EU nationals was “not fit for purpose” and said the Home Office could require up to 5,000 extra civil servants to cope with large numbers of applications and appeals.Jill Rutter, IfG Brexit programme director, said, “The political imperative for change in immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge.“The scale of the task – creating a new immigration system – is huge and it is critical that government gets it right.“The current process for dealing with permanent residence applications from EU nationals is not fit for purpose, as the government itself acknowledged. It needs to be streamlined as a matter of urgency and as a first step towards a new post-Brexit system.”Joe Owen, IfG researcher and report author, added, “Brexit is an opportunity to design an immigration system that is more effective for the country and less burdensome for employers.“It’s important that the Government avoids making multiple changes and introducing unnecessary disruption and confusion.“To provide stability, we should continue with the existing migration system until the new one is ready.”For related news and features, visit our Brexit section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit

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