'Expect immigration to increase' says UK lawyer

Far from achieving the government's aim of reducing annual net migration to below 100,000, leaving the European Union will actually result in an increase in economic migration to the UK in the long term, according to a prominent immigration lawyer.

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Matthew Davies, a partner and specialist in business immigration law at the Midlands law firm Wright Hassall, says that many believed the referendum vote to quit the EU would allow the UK to ‘take control’ of immigration by imposing more stringent restrictions on those coming to live and work here.But, he says in an article on the company's website, “The reality is more nuanced. Changes are being implemented, but they are not necessarily following the path that many predicted.”Mr Davies points out that the businesses sector has little faith in government claims that the proposals in the Immigration White Paper will result in an effective skills-based system that will control the “number and type” of foreign nationals allowed in to work.“Business is much less confident that Brexit will 'fix' immigration. It sees the nature of the problem, and the prospect of a solution, very differently, and worries about its ability to secure the migrants at all skill levels whose ready supply has been 'a given' in recent years.

Political uncertainty means expect the unexpected

“Political uncertainty and a falling pound do not make us an attractive bet, either. In the short term, there will be challenges. Longer term, expect the unexpected.”Mr Davies says the publication of the white paper was claimed by ministers as heralding the arrival of a new immigration system, “but quietly pointed towards modification and re-packaging rather than wholesale change”.
He adds, “After all, the current points-based system for non-EEA economic migration was finalised only a decade ago on the premise that it would bring certainty, fairness and objectivity to a complex and bureaucratic area.“Employers were assured that it would be easier to operate while ensuring that only the economic migrants we really need would be able to access our labour markets. It was expensive to introduce then, and there is less public money now.”

Current points system will be relaxed

He says the current points system for non-EEA migration is set for an overhaul and a degree of relaxation and liberalisation, which will open the labour market for some previously excluded.“Loss of effective, integrated cooperation with our EU partners following Brexit will mean more pressure, not less, on 'control' at the border itself – the last line of defence against illegal migration and the exploitation and economic damage it causes.”

Lack of detail in the white paper

Mr Davies says there is a striking lack of detail in the white paper, “The overall thrust, though, is toward a relaxation and liberalisation of controls, including the abandonment of the Resident Labour Market Test, the lowering of skills thresholds and special schemes for low-skilled work in areas such as hospitality, the care sector and horticulture where the loss of EEA free movement (and the disincentivisation of EEA migrants) will hit hardest.“Once the transition period is over, EEA nationals coming to live and work in the UK for the first time will have to apply through the 'new' system.“It is hard to see how the pre-referendum manifesto pledge to reduce annual net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ will survive Brexit. A UK economy exposed to new headwinds and with less funding for skills training and wages, will be more dependent than ever on migrant labour.“The irony is that leaving the EU will, in the longer term, increase net economic migration to the UK, both legal and illegal, whatever people thought they were voting for.”Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory