The Government set out its objectives in the Queen’s Speech. This year’s speech is intended to cover a two year period, instead of the traditional 12 months, to allow MPs more time to debate Brexit legislation.
The 2017 Conservative Party manifesto had set out the following aims in relation to immigration:
- reduce immigration to sustainable levels, which means annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands seen over the last two decades;
- ask the independent Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Government about how the visa system can become better aligned with modern industrial strategy. The Conservatives envisaged that the committee’s advice would allow them to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration;
- double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK;
- secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU;
- maintain the Common Travel Area and ensure that the movement of people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is as ‘frictionless’ as possible;
- allow workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from the UK’s membership of the EU to remain;
- increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas;
- toughen the visa requirements for students. The Conservatives expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in the UK after their studies have concluded;
- overseas students to remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within the scope of the Government’s policy to reduce annual net migration;
- establish an immigration policy that allows a reduction and control of the number of people who come to Britain from the EU, while still allowing the Government to attract the skilled workers the economy needs;
- increase the Immigration Health Surcharge to £600 for migrant workers and £450 for international students to cover their use of the NHS.
In contrast, the Queen’s Speech announced:
‘A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses. This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries.’
The briefing notes which accompanied the Queen’s Speech, set out the following:
‘With the repeal of the European Communities Act, it will be necessary to establish new powers concerning the immigration status of EEA nationals. The bill will allow the Government to control the number of people coming here from Europe while still allowing us to attract the brightest and the best.
The bill will:
- allow for the repeal of EU law on immigration, primarily free movement, that will otherwise be saved and converted into UK law by the Repeal Bill;
- make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU.’
It will be welcome news to businesses, which find it difficult to recruit from the domestic skills force, that most of the immigration pledges from the manifesto (including reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands) did not make it into the Queen’s Speech. However, with the end of free movement as we know it seemingly inevitable, both businesses and relevant sectors must make sure that they prepare themselves for changes to the way that EU nationals are able to come and take up work in the UK. It remains to be seen whether any new system will bring EU nationals into a set of immigration rules which apply equally to both EU and non-EU nationals or whether separate systems will be put in place.
Finally, while the bill refers primarily to EU nationals and is silent on non-EU immigration, the Government apparently remains committed to the net migration target although it has not yet set out what measures will be put in place to achieve this.