'Hard Brexit' poses visa headache, lawyer warns

Failure to reach a trade deal with the European Union by the end of the Brexit transition period in six months' time would make immigration "impossible to manage", according to a leading immigration lawyer.

Empty immigration queue at an airport
Ben Sheldrick, managing partner and head of business immigration at commercial immigration practice Magrath Sheldrick, also maintains that UK employers have been "weighed down" by Home Office bureaucracy over the past five years when they have tried to hire overseas staff.

Post-Brexit immigration: a transition period is needed

In an interview on the whoswholegal.com website, Mr Sheldrick says that it has been apparent for some time that, regardless of a deal or no-deal Brexit, there would have to be a transition period for a new immigration regime lasting into 2021 at the earliest."A 'hard Brexit' for immigration purposes would be impossible to manage, potentially causing a breakdown at the ports of entry," he says."The unilateral approach to the movement of people adopted by the government in the event of no-deal, including the introduction of a European temporary leave-to-remain scheme, closely mirrors the transitional arrangements under the withdrawal agreement. This fact has provided clients with some comfort in a very uncertain environment."On the other hand, in a no-deal scenario the position of UK nationals living and working across the EU27 will be dependent on the national laws and policies of each individual member state; so we have done a lot of work in putting together guidance on this outcome for our clients."Next year will be very interesting, assuming we enter into an implementation period, as we prepare for the new immigration schemes to be developed and introduced."

Teresa May and successive UK governments have complicated the immigration situation for employers and potential migrants

Mr Sheldrick is critical of Theresa May's time as both home secretary and prime minister for removing many routes of entry to the UK for economic and skilled migrants, focusing instead on sponsor compliance and attempts to reduce net migration.He complains that while successive governments have committed themselves to the creation of streamlined, efficient and transparent immigration processes that would be easy to understand by employers and potential migrants, "the effect has often been the opposite"."Employers have become weighed down by a vast range of compliance, reporting and record-keeping obligations while individual applicants find it very difficult to navigate endless pages of Home Office guidance. This has undoubtedly increased demand for immigration professionals.

Massive increase in overall immigration costs and fees

"The other major factor over the past few years has been the increase in government fees, levies and taxes in relation to inward immigration. The drive to reduce net migration down to 'sustainable levels' resulted in a range of efforts to reduce pull factors. First among these is the massive increase in overall costs."Mr Sheldrick says he hopes 2020 will see a shift towards a more diverse and innovative range of immigration options."If the UK leaves the European Union as planned, there will inevitably be greater focus on the legal framework of immigration controls in the future. Future practice lies across a range of inbound UK schemes, both corporate and private client," he adds."The UK will continue to attract foreign investment. Our economy will require human capital at all skill levels. There is plenty of scope for business growth for immigration practitioners."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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