The United Kingdom (UK) left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. Since then, the government has been rolling out changes to the immigration system, adapting it to a world without free movement to and from Europe. Today, the government finally revealed its plan for post-Brexit economic migration in Britain. At its core is the idea of “taking back control,” a slogan which won the 2016 Brexit referendum, implemented through the end of free movement, a new visa system for EU and third-party nationals alike and a focus on “skilled migrants” to reduce overall immigration.
Under the current immigration rules, EU citizens do not need a visa to work and live in the UK because they benefit from freedom of movement. Those from outside the EU have to meet certain requirements such as English language skills, sponsorship by a company and a salary threshold in order to apply for a visa. There is a cap of 21,000 on the number of visas awarded per year.
Following the new plan, freedom of movement with the EU will end, and EU nationals will be subject to the same exact rules as non-EU nationals. As such, people coming to the UK from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors and short-term students, will have to obtain a visa for which they will pay a fee. In addition, employers will have to pay an Immigration Skills surcharge on their migrant employees, and migrants from in and outside of the EU will have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge. The only group unaffected by the new rules are Irish nationals, which the government states will be able to enter and exit the UK the same way they always have.
… to an Australian points-based system?
Freedom of movement will be replaced by with what the government calls a points-based system, supposedly modelled after the Australian immigration system which allows economic migrants to settle if they can demonstrate that they have a blend of skills and qualifications adding up to enough points. The selling point of a true points-based system is its flexibility, as it allows migrants to mix and match from a list of characteristics to reach the necessary threshold, and then settle in the host country without having to meet any mandatory requirements, such as an employment sponsorship as one needs in the US for example.
The government proposals released today, however, fail to offer that flexibility and probably explains the complete absence of the term ‘Australia-style’ system. The plan requires all economic migrants wanting to come to the UK to fulfil three essential requirements, which are worth 50 points all together. In addition to that, individuals will have to score another 20 points based on their salary expectations to reach 70 points overall, and be eligible to apply for a visa. The minimum salary threshold to reach 70 points automatically is set at £25,600. If the applicant earns less than that required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to reach 70 points by demonstrating that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation such as nursing, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job. The policy paper specifically states that there will be no regional concessions to different parts of the UK, nor will there be a dedicated route for self-employed people.
The three essential requirements are knowledge of the English language, a job offer from an approved sponsor, and a job at the appropriate skill level. These mandatory requirements differentiate the system from its Australian counterpart, and therefore, the plan is not a true points-based system. Especially the job offer requirement flies in the face of the Australian analogy, where every year, the largest percentage of new economic permanent resident visas are awarded to individuals without a job offer, but who make up for it with other skills or abilities from the list.
For highly-skilled workers, the government laid out its extended Global Talent visa route on the day Britain left the EU. Through this scheme, the most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. For now, this forms the only exception to the job offer requirement, although the policy plan promises to roll out a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system in the future.
The appropriate skill level under the points-based system is set at the equivalent to A-levels. Anyone who does not meet that level will not be able to apply, as it is one of the mandatory requirements. Additionally, the plan explicitly states that there will be no general low-skilled or temporary work route ‘…shifting the focus of [the UK] economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe…’, leaving immense labour shortages in specific industries. The list of low-skilled workers industries includes waiters, waitresses, elementary agriculture workers and fishery workers. The report unhelpfully states ‘Employers will need to adjust.’
Special arrangements are put in place for certain sectors such as scientists, graduates, NHS workers, to fill the gap, but these arrangements are unlikely to resolve the immense labour shortage created. The cap for the agricultural sector, for example, is increasing to 10,000 places per year for seasonal workers who harvest the fields, but remains far below the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) demands for 70,000 temporary visas in 2021. Nothing is mentioned of other groups likely to get caught up in the low-skilled workers group such as care home workers, waiters, cleaners or domestic workers. This drew immediate criticism from people in the sector, as the hospitality sector, for instance, famously relies on an EU national workforce, with Pret A Manger reporting that only one in 50 job applicants was a British national in 2018.
The newly released plan indicates a major overhaul in the UK’s approach to economic migration. It does not, however, affect students, family migration, or asylum law. Notably, none of these changes will take effect immediately. The transitional period, in which EU nationals are still free to exercise their free movement rights in the same way they were when the UK was still a part of the EU, is set to end on 31 December 2020. On 1 January 2021, then, is when the proposed changes will come into force. Even then, they will not take effect retroactively. As such, they will not affect the millions of EU citizens already living in the UK, and the job market is not going to change overnight. They will, however, change the composition of who comes and stays in the UK in the future. But for the 2016 Brexit voters, that future may be too far away to offer satisfaction.
The World Health Organisation defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.’ FGM is an intrusive and extremely painful procedure which stains a girl’s entire life, and is linked with severe long-term consequences including cysts, infections and complications in childbirth.
A 2016 government report states that FGM is child abuse. It promises not to tolerate this practice in the UK, and expresses a commitment to taking concerted action to prevent and ultimately end FGM.
As such, the government has taken active steps to combat it. In the UK, agencies have been set up and legislation passed to fight the practice aggressively. FGM has been a criminal offense in Britain since 1985, and new legislation in 2003 introduced a jail term of up to 14 years for British citizens carrying out FGM abroad, even in countries where it is legal to do so. Beyond British borders, the government pledged to invest £50m in grassroots organisations working to stop the practice across Africa, where it is most prevalent. As it stands, there are over 30 countries where young girls are still routinely subject to FGM. That begs the questions: what happens to girls who escape the practice in their home country and seek refuge elsewhere? Does the commitment to prevent and end FGM extend to them?
In order to qualify for refugee status in the UK, an asylum seeker must show a fear of persecution in their home country. Claims made based on fear of FGM have to fit into this legal terminology in order to succeed. Three basic elements must be proven for the claim to be successful. Firstly, the asylum seeker must have a well-founded fear of persecution. Secondly, the individual must be subject to the persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Lastly, the asylum seeker must prove that they cannot be adequately protected against the persecution in their country of origin. These three elements are worth discussing each in turn.
FGM has been classed as a form of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment, and as a violation of the human rights as well as health and bodily integrity of women and girls. It violates numerous human rights statutes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which asks to ‘protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse.’ As such, FGM constitutes persecution in the legal sense of the word.
Considering the second element, FGM can be claimed under a couple of these umbrellas. Since it is a practice that affects only women and these women experience discrimination in their countries of origin, they can be considered to belong to the particular social group “women.” FGM is a form of violence against women and girls which is in itself both a cause and consequence of gender inequality, and therefore targets a particular social group, namely a particular gender. Opposition to FGM can also be considered a religious or political opinion. Either argument can satisfy the second element of an asylum claim.
Lastly, the claimant must prove that they cannot accurately be protected against persecution in their home country by for example relocating or seeking protection from the local authorities. This is where it usually goes wrong. The Home Office, focused on meeting net migration targets, often claims that contrary to the evidence, the risk of FGM in such cases is low because the mother can single-handedly protect her daughter from familial, religious or community pressure to undergo FGM; or that, just because the mother has been cut, it does not necessarily follow that her daughter will be cut; or that the state can protect the girl from FGM. As a consequence, asylum is often refused, even though it is widely documented that, when considering the risk of FGM, the most important factors are whether the girl’s family has a history of practising FGM, whether it is known to be practised in her community or country of origin, and whether laws to facilitate protection against are actually enforced in that particular country (hint – they often are not.)
If a girl has already been subjected to FGM when she claims asylum, the claim will usually also be refused. The physical and psychological trauma of having been through the mutilation does not, under current law, form a sufficient basis for an asylum claim, since the claimant is not at risk of FGM in the future. As such, unless there is a reasonable degree of likelihood that the procedure might be redone after the birth of a baby, or that FGM might be performed on the claimant’s daughters, someone who has previously been cut will not be granted asylum on that basis alone.
Even when a FGM claim succeed, that only guarantees status for the person directly at risk. More often than not, these claimants are children on the cusp of puberty. Since parents cannot be dependants on their daughter’s asylum claim, the Home Office has to evaluate whether accompanying parents qualify for refugee status on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution in their own right. This may be either as a member of a particular social group, that group being the accompanying parents of a daughter at risk of FGM, or for other reasons in the country of return. If this is not the case, the parents may be granted discretionary leave, but, predictably, this is entirely at the Home Office’s discretion, effectively bringing these children at risk of separation from their parents if they want to avoid mutilation back home.
This exemplifies the duplicity of the government’s public commitment to ending FGM with real support for victims. On the one hand, the rhetoric against FGM is strong and unequivocal. In the UK, as well as for British citizens abroad, the practice is criminalised and heavily punishable. On the other hand, women and girls at risk of mutilation abroad are deported. As Charlotte Proudman, a Goldsmiths chambers barrister and academic specialised in FGM cases said last year, if the government was genuinely committed to protecting women and girls from FGM, it would be concerned with them being cut at home as well as overseas.
The government published their third set of quarterly statistics on the progress of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) today. It states that as of 31 December 2019, over 2.7 million applications were received, of which over 2.4 million have been concluded. The Home Office processes about 20,000 applications per day. Of the concluded applications, 58% of applicants were granted settled status, 41% were granted pre-settled status and 1% had other outcomes, including withdrawn or void applications. To date, six applications have been refused on suitability grounds.
Whilst the statistics may seem favourable from the Home Office’s perspective, they are not as rosy as they seem. In our last post on EUSS statistics we highlighted some of the issues with the Scheme, including double applications, inaccurate estimates of the number of EU nationals living in the UK, and the Home Office’s ability to ensure vulnerable communities apply to the Scheme. In the latest set of statistics, published on 6 February 2020, these issues are mentioned, but not resolved.
The report explicitly recognises double applications as a concern. It states:
“The data in this report account for the number of applications to the system, including individuals making applications on more than one occasion. An individual who has been granted pre-settled status can make a new application at a later stage to apply for settled status. As these are separate applications with separate outcomes, they are counted separately in the statistics.”
In the upcoming months after Brexit, the number of applicants wanting to convert their pre-settled status to settled status, and thus applying to the EUSS for the second time, will keep rising. As such, the significance of the total number of applicants mentioned in the Home Office statistics will only lessen, until the numbers published mean nothing at all.
The report also reminds readers that the EUSS statistics refer specifically to applications made to the EU Settlement Scheme, and therefore cannot be compared with estimates of the resident population of EU/EEA nationals in the UK. This is because figures include non-EEA family members as well as eligible EEA citizens not currently resident in the UK.
Additionally, it states that support is available for those EU citizens in the UK who do not have the access, skills or confidence to apply independently. Clearly, that additional support is insufficient, since the number of applicants from the age group of 65 or older remains low, at 2% of the total number of applications.
No solution is offered to resolve these issues. On the contrary: after explicitly conceding all of the above, the Home Office boasted that the EU Settlement Scheme has reached “a new milestone.” Home Secretary Priti Patel said she is “delighted that there have already been more than 3 million applications to the hugely successful EU Settlement Scheme,” even though the statistical report shows that this number is misleading.
From a legal point of view, there is also a likely misrepresentation in the statistics regarding refused applications. Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules, which lays out the EUSS in law, states that applications are automatically refused when the individual who applies is subject to a deportation order due to their criminal record. Additionally, applications may be refused if the Secretary of state believes that the decision to refuse is conducive to the public good, even when there is no deportation order against the individual.
In light of this, six refused applications may not seem like a lot, but it is becoming apparent that this number might be manipulated, as the more difficult cases are left at the bottom of the pile. Additionally, we have seen proof that under certain circumstances, previously granted status may be revoked or invalidated. One EEA national, who was convicted to six months imprisonment for a battery offence, was detained upon completion of his custodial sentence irrespective of him having obtained settled status under the EUSS. His status is set to be revoked because of his failure to disclose previous offences which he committed in the Netherlands years before moving to the UK, even though they may not be serious enough offences to justify a refusal of status in the first place. We know for a fact that there is ministerial involvement in this case, following the Home Secretary’s decision to authorise the enforcement and removal action in this and five other test cases. This case has been ongoing for nearly five months, during which the individual remains held in detention. In the meantime, the Home Office try to justify his removal based on a failure to disclose, rather than based on his danger to the public – so much for hailing the simplicity, fairness and flexibility of the scheme.
Moreover, more refusals for non-EEA nationals with EEA national spouses/partners are expected. Non-EEA nationals can apply for a family permit under the EUSS based on a genuine and subsisting relationship with an EEA national who has status in the UK. Christopher Desira, Seraphus’ founding solicitor, confirms that decisions on such applications are currently abnormally delayed:
“I know of some EEA nationals with Non-EEA national spouses/partners who previously applied for residence cards but were refused based on the belief that the relationship is one of convenience. They since applied to the EUSS scheme. The Home Office know of the previous refusals so are likely to refuse again but they are currently not making any decisions for reasons I can only guess are political. Refusing EUSS status for serious offending is one thing, but refusing because they don’t trust a relationship is another.
Decisions should not be put on hold for long periods of time, whether they end up being refused or not; they should be issued so individuals know where they stand, challenge the decision where necessary, and move on with their lives.”
On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the European Council of its intention to leave the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. After almost three years of delay, powerplay and disarray, the day has finally come. Yesterday, the European Parliament officially approved the Withdrawal Agreement. Emotional but sober images of Remain MEPs singing Auld Lang Syne as MEPs signed the Agreement. At 23:00 tonight the British Union flag will be removed from the European institutions in Brussels, and the EU flag lowered from City Hall in London. The UK will officially no longer be a part of the European Union. In anticipation of this, steps have been taken to prepare the country for a complete upheaval of the legal and political framework in the UK.
In an act of defiance, the Scottish government narrowly won a vote to keep the EU flag flying over the Edinburgh parliament building after Brexit. Because, as Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, stated, “at times of uncertainty and disruption, symbols matter.”
And symbols do matter. They do not, however, define what will happen to EU citizens living in the UK in practice – not in the short term. What will change, here and now, for EU citizens coming to the UK and the other way around? Obviously, a lot. Today the government published a Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules, officialising the first immediate change in the law of the UK in practice.
It introduces a new visa category called “Global Talent.” This will replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. The Global Talent visa is branded as a new type of visa for talented and promising individuals in the fields of science, digital technology, arts and culture wanting to work and research in the UK.
The process to receive this visa is not dissimilar from the old Exceptional Talent route: Global Talent applicants must hold an endorsement from an organisation engaged by the Home office to develop sector-specific criteria, just like before. The main difference is that the new Global Talent category will not be subject to a cap on the number of applicants, whereas the ole Exceptional Talent category was capped at 2000 places per year. The removal of the cap is supposed to ensure that migrants who can meet the qualifying criteria will be able to secure entry to the UK. Applicants will be able to choose how much leave, in whole years, up to a maximum of 5 years they wish to be granted in a single application, and pay their immigration health surcharge accordingly.
The new category will take effect on 20 February 2020 – real and tangible changes to many other areas of the law will follow until the end of the transition period in June 2021. Incremental change as well as major overhauls will transform the UK after Brexit, including Scotland, and no flag waving above Holyrood will change that.
Earlier this month, it was reported that EU citizens face a “teachers tax” of £4,345 over 5 years if they want to come teach in the UK after Brexit. Although not factually incorrect, this statement does not reflect the law – or the reality – of teachers working in the UK.
There is no such thing as a “teachers’ tax.” There is simply an immigration system already in place which in consequence of the Brexit vote will apply to anyone who does not fall under the umbrella of exemptions to that system. In other words, after Brexit, EU citizens will fall under the same immigration regime as third party (non-EU) nationals. Curbing immigration by ending free movement in this way was one of the Leave-campaign’s main selling points, and largely how they won the 2016 referendum.
Effectively, the end of free movement means that everyone, including EU nationals, will need to apply for a visa if they want to enter and live in the UK post-Brexit. The Johnson government has drawn up a plan of what this would look like. Needless to say, under this plan, getting a visa costs money. The Tier 2 visa, which is the working visa for which teachers would have to apply if the rules stay as they are now, costs £1220 if it is a permit for longer than 3 years. In addition to that, the government has stated that any non-British nationals will be liable to pay a yearly NHS immigration surcharge, which all non-EU migrants already pay today. The price of the immigration surcharge is set to go up to £800 a year. If you add up 5 years’ worth of immigration surcharge with the visa fees, it will cost at least £4,345 to live and work in the UK for five years after Brexit, explaining the figure that The Independent alludes to.
Some groups of special workers will have different requirements. The main group of workers with guaranteed special status is NHS workers. The Tory manifesto promises to alleviate the burden of immigration for EU workers with NHS job offers by offering cheaper visa fees and fast-track entry. It is their attempt to ensure that the NHS survives Brexit, labour shortages are filled and employment targets met. It is not unimaginable that if the government recognises a labour shortage and reliance on Europe for the NHS, it may do so for other fields and professions as well.
In short, unless the government implements a special exemption for teachers, which may be a good idea considering the labour shortage in the teaching profession, then yes, they too, like any non-British nationals in the UK, will have to pay for immigration services and the cost of these applications is not to be underestimated. But it is not a tax on teachers, as the Independent article seems to imply. Rather, it is simply the price tag which comes attached to the UK immigration system, which, after Brexit, will apply to EU and non-EU nationals alike.
Once the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, the Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated by Boris Johnson based on Theresa May’s earlier version, will come into force. The Agreement specifically states that the transition period, which is 11 months long and during which a permanent deal is supposed to be negotiated, can only be extended once, putting an end to the cycle of delays and fresh extensions which have dominated the Brexit process since the referendum in 2016. It also states that once the UK leaves, Article 50 can no longer be revoked, meaning that the only way to become a part of the EU will be to re-apply and start the process from scratch. This is set to happen on the 31 January, only two weeks from now – Brexit is real, unavoidable and rapidly approaching.
As that knowledge seeps through to the broader public, the European Parliament passed a resolution last week expressing the Members of the European Parliament’s (MEP) collective wariness for the future of EU citizens in Britain, as well as British citizens in EU member states.
The European Parliament has all EU citizens’ best interests at heart, as the resolution says, both “before and after the UK leaves the EU.” The complications begin when looking at who that phrase affects in the first place: EU citizens living in the EU27 and EU citizens living in the UK are the obvious ones, but what about the 1.2 million Brits living in other EU countries? What about the people of Northern Ireland, who are all entitled to Irish and by extent, EU citizenship, under the Good Friday agreement? This is where the water gets muddled. The British government has also not clarified whether the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), their all-hailed solution for EU citizens in the UK to retain their rights, applies to citizens of Northern Ireland who have not sought UK citizenship under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The resolution expressed apprehension regarding the high proportion of applicants who have only been accorded pre-settled status under the Scheme; these people are at risk of losing their status before they qualify for settled status, or may not re-apply to get that settled status when the time comes. The resolution therefore urges the UK to reconsider their approach and opt for a declaratory scheme instead, an approach which our Managing Director previously endorsed.
It then goes on to state its “grave concern” at conflicting announcement made in relation to EU citizens in the UK who fail to meet the deadline for EUSS applications, and the treatment of late applications under the Scheme. Last year, UK Home Office minister Brandon Lewis suggested that people who had not applied to formalise their status by the cut-off date of 30 June 2021 could “theoretically” be deported.
Other concerns highlighted include the lack of physical documentation proving EU citizens right under the EUSS, and the potential discrimination that can flow from it. It recommends providing EU citizens with some type of physical evidence of their legal right to be in the UK by the end of the transition period to avoid this. Unfortunately, as our Managing Director explains in The Independent, this discrimination is already occurring. The resolution also mentions the UK’s plans for an Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) which under the withdrawal deal is meant to monitor arrangements, questioning how fully independent of a watchdog this authority will really be. These concerns resonate with immigration lawyers and other professionals in the sector; no real details of how the IMA will operate have been released, and until the Ministry of Justice provides more details as to the construction and powers of the IMA, it is something that will need to be closely scrutinised as the situation develops and more details are released.
The EU’s approach to the post-Brexit transition seems to be one of cooperation and collaboration, but it is not without its limits. The Parliament therefore stated that the level of free movement granted to EU citizens after Brexit will be a factor in deciding the “degree of future cooperation in other areas.” As Ursula von Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in her speech at the London School of Economics (LSE) last week, the last few years have been difficult and divisive. What people need, and what they want, is certainty about their lives and their future, and certainty about the future of their loved ones. It is of paramount importance that in the next round of transitional negotiations, the British government lives up to those expectations.
Just shy of 2.6 million applications for status under the EU Settlement Scheme have been received since its launch in January 2019. That is what the latest set of statistics published by the Home Office, state.
October 2019 saw the highest number of applications per month since the EU Settlement Scheme was introduced: over half a million applications were submitted, with a looming possibility of Brexit day pushing people to action. The slightly overwhelming flow of applications has led to a backlog in processing times: more than 20% of applications were still being considered a month after having been received.
As more people apply, the strengths and weaknesses of the Scheme are becoming increasingly apparent.
Preliminarily, statistical estimates are unlikely to be accurate because it is simply not known how many EU nationals live in the UK. Free movement law has allowed EEA nationals to enter and leave the country without it being recorded for decades. As such, any estimates as to how many people should apply are only just that – estimates, which are hard to back up with hard evidence.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have attempted to do some work on this, but as the Scheme solidifies and application numbers increase, we can see that their published estimates are plainly wrong. Kuba Jablonowski, a Political Geography lecturer and researcher at Exeter University, dug into the numbers.
One major drawback of the ONS statistics is that some applications under the Scheme are counted towards the total number of applications despite coming from applicants who already have status under the Scheme. These are people who were granted or refused status, and then, for whatever reason, re-apply. The Home Office has confirmed that it counts repeat applications under the EU Settlement Scheme as new applications:
“It’s right that every application is counted because each application has a separate outcome. However, our initial analysis of internal figures suggest that repeat applications currently represent less than 0.5% of applications.”
0.5% out of 2.6 million applications may not sound that significant, but it means that thousands of cases are counted twice, distorting the statistics. Additionally, if the Home Office continues to use the same statistical methods, the discrepancy between the real number of applicants and the published numbers will only increase as many applicants who were initially granted pre-settled status will have to apply again to receive settled status, thus all becoming “double applicants.” Moreover, those who get a status in the crown dependencies, and also get a status under the Home Office scheme, are counted in the Home Office numbers. In reality, these should be ignored for the purposes of calculating the number of missing applicants.
Another red flag is the low number of applicants from the age group 65 or older. According to the statistics, only 2% of the total applications come from people aged over 65, although they make up a higher percentage of the EEA population in the UK. Reasons for this include the technology barrier, as well as the limited reach of government marketing and campaigning of the Scheme to secluded and isolated communities.
The discrepancy between expected/estimated applications and true applications is confirmed in the monthly statistics from October 2019. Following the ONS estimates, by October 2019, 132-148% of Portuguese nationals, 105-121% of Bulgarians, 93-102% of Italians, 90-101% of Spaniards and 92-99% of Romanians applied under the Scheme. Based on these numbers, more people from these countries have applied than the ONS even estimate are in the country – and there is another year of the transitional period to go, in which more applications are anticipated.
Clearly, there is little oversight on how well the Settlement Scheme is taking off. We do not know how many people have applied today – let alone how many people are supposed to apply by the cut-off date of 31 December 2020. Either the estimated number of EU nationals in the UK is inaccurate, or the double applications under the scheme have troubled the numbers – or both.
Last week’s general election means the Conservative Party now has a clear majority in government to fulfil the many promises they made in their manifesto, including major overhauls to immigration policy. Not only did Boris Johnson vow to get Brexit done by the New Year, but his party also plans to put EU nationals on the same level as third party nationals once free movement law ends. This in and of itself is a radical approach to immigration law, and will have major consequences for EU citizens in the UK.
After Brexit, once EU nationals are levelled with third party nationals, the conservatives want to introduce what they call a points-based immigration system, which they proclaim to base on the Australian visa system. The plan, broadly, is to introduce three visa categories after Brexit, for which anyone who moves to the UK will have to apply, and which replace existing categories.
The first is the “Exceptional Talent/Contribution” category, and includes the entrepreneur and investor visa. These visas are geared towards “highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.” These people will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry to the UK. This category is not dissimilar from the current Tier 1 visa category, albeit with some minor changes.
The second category is for skilled workers, and to some extent, is a rebrand of the current Tier 2 category. The vast majority of these visas would require a job offer, in line with how work visas are allocated to third party nationals now. The skilled workers category is the only way for workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer to get limited leave to remain. It will effectively require all non-British nationals to prove that they have a job offer as well as reach the amount of points required under the points-based system. Needless to say, implementing this will constitute the most significant change compared to free movement law, which is currently in force, as it requires EU national to comply with visa requirements. This will have a massive impact on fields such as hospitality, where EU nationals make up more than half of the workforce, and the NHS. The Conservative party propose to make up for that potential labour shortage by introducing fast-track entry and reduced fees for certain special types of work, such as a NHS specific visa.
The general idea behind a points-based system is that people are scored on their personal attributes such as language skills, education, age and work experience. If their score hits the minimum required, they can acquire a visa. Crucially, there is no one fixed way to score enough points; a plethora of work experience can make up for older age and excellent language skills might make up for lack of formal education. As long as an individual’s different attributes add up to enough points, they will be granted a visa. The key point about points-based systems is not that they are inherently liberal or progressive; whether it is a liberal system will depend on how points are awarded. Rather, the key feature is their flexibility and the ability to get enough points by making any combination of characteristics. That is how the Australian points-based system works.
Contrastingly, the UK immigration system today is based on mandatory requirements. This is a system where applicants need to tick all the boxes in order to be granted a visa. For example, an applicant will need to prove his language skills, have a certain amount in savings, show that they have a job offer AND show that they will be making a minimum salary. If the individual lacks one of those requirements the visa will be refused, that is how simple it is.
The issues with the Tories’ proposals is that they want the best of both worlds. They want to introduce point-based characteristics, but keep the mandatory requirement of a job offer, combining mandatory requirements with points-based elements. Essentially, they want a points-based system where, after making the points-based selection, they can cherry pick who is granted a visa and who is not. As such, although they like to call it a points-based system, it not really points-based, and it is certainly not as simple or easy to navigate as portrayed by the Party.
The third category is the “sector-specific rules-based” category, which will be made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short-term visits. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. They are how the government will attempt to match the demand for workers in specific sectors with enough visas to supply that demand. Supposedly, these visas will replace the free movement of labour with state planning. Deciding which markets need workers will be outsourced from the Home Office to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). This means that the MAC would react to gaps in the economy, flag them up, and the government will then create a temporary visa category to fill the gap. These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC. In other words, the temporary visas will be reactionary in nature. They will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The economy adapts to reality more quickly than the law, and new policy takes months, if not years, to come into force. By the time a new visa category actually opens, the gap in the job market it was trying to fill may well have been resolved by market forces.
As an attentive reader may notice, the only migrants mentioned in the Conservative policy proposals are economic immigrants. The manifesto does not mention changes to other areas of the current immigration regime. It retains the status quo of Theresa May’s controversial hostile environment policies, fails to tackle legal aid cuts, and does not propose any change to the clear human rights violation of indefinite detention, for example. Additionally, the manifesto indicates an attack on judicial review. Since the removal and erosion of appeal rights in the 2014 Immigration Act, judicial review is now often the only recourse to justice for many people who have been wronged by the immigration system. Reforming judicial review, and limiting its scope, removes another layer of checks and balances on Home Office powers, suggesting that not only labour rights, but also human rights, are set to be qualified and watered down after Brexit and once this government starts rolling out policy.
A year has gone by since the Stansted 15 were convicted of terrorism offences for blocking the take-off of an immigration removal charter flight at Stansted airport. Where are they now, what has happened since, and how has the law changed?
On 28 March 2017, a group of nine men and six women cut a hole in the perimeter fence of Stansted Airport, and used lock-on devices to secure themselves around a Titan Airways Boeing 767 chartered by the Home Office to remove 60 undocumented immigrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Initially, the Stansted 15 were charged with aggravated trespass, but four months later these charges were upped to “endangering safety at aerodromes”, a serious terrorism-related charge which can lead to a life sentence. As a consequence, on 10 December 2018, the 15 were convicted under this rarely used anti-terrorism legislation and faced a potential sentence of life in prison.
The verdict was criticized by many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, as it was seen as a blow to non-violent human rights activism. It was said that by charging peaceful public dissenters with such heavy crimes, the prosecution effectively threatened the future of peaceful protests as well as the legitimacy of public dissent in the UK.
The 15 were protesting Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, introduced in 2013. The idea behind that policy is that by making life for undocumented individuals difficult in the UK, they will leave the country or report to the relevant authorities, allowing the Home Office to curb and control immigration more effectively. Amongst other things, the hostile environment policy requires immigration checks to be carried out before anyone can open a new bank account, be issued with a driving licence, rent a flat, or access routine health treatment. The judgment against the 15 seemed to reflect the government’s hostile approach to immigration generally
One of the people who had a seat booked on the mass deportation flight which the Stansted 15 managed to stop, said:
“Migration and deportation targets suck humanity from a system whose currency is the lives of people who happen to be born outside the UK. Such is the determination to look “tough” on the issue that people are rounded up in the night and put on to brutal, secretive and barely legal charter flights. Most take off away from the public eye – 60 human beings shackled and violently restrained on each flight, with barely a thought about the life they are dragged away from, nor the one they face upon arrival.”
After months in detention and years facing the hostile environment, he won his appeal, which he was only able to attend thanks to his flight being cancelled. He has now regularised his status in the UK, enabling him to live with his partner and three young children.
The Stansted 15 were sentenced in February 2019. The sentencing judge accepted they were motivated by “genuine reasons,” and as a consequence, all 15 avoided immediate prison sentences, with three set to be given suspended sentences and 12 set to be given community service. A year after their conviction, it is worth reflecting upon the state of the laws they were protesting against, and the cause for which they were willing to take such serious risks.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have vouched to end the hostile environment, stating that making landlords and banks perform immigration checks instead of investing in the immigration system is an inhumane and ineffective way of policing migration. Dianne Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has argued that mass deportation on chartered planes is a brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic, as it allows people to be bundled out of the country when they have not yet exhausted all their avenues of appeal and without due process. This was no different on the aircraft which the Stansted 15 managed to stop: today, at least two of the 60 passengers who were to be forcibly deported that day live legally in the UK. At least nine other claims remain outstanding.
The Stansted 15 stated that although they consider saving these 11 people’s lives a partial victory, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, they have appealed their conviction, and are waiting for it to be listed in the coming months, as they refuse to accept their guilty verdict. One of 15, Benjamin Stoke, states,
“We were charged with endangering life, but we took the actions at Stansted to try to protect life.”
When New Labour came to power in 1997, just 3% of the public cited immigration as a key issue. By the time of the EU referendum in 2016, that figure was 48%. As a consequence, migration has become a key issue in political campaigns on all sides of the spectrum. For years, MPs have relied on strong rhetoric about migration in setting ambitious goals for “net migration”, installing the hostile environment and finally, in their approach to Brexit. In reality, harsh numerical targets have often not been met, and promises have failed to materialise. As evidenced by the three major party manifestos before the election of 12 December, immigration remains a hot topic. We take a look at the manifestos of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the ruling Conservative party, and what they intend to do about an immigration system that desperately needs reform to help you make an informed decision.
One major issue on which the three parties have outlined a clear and very different strategy is Brexit. The Liberal Democrats, staunch Remainers from the very beginning, still promise that if they are elected, they will revoke Article 50, end Brexit and save freedom of movement for EEA nationals. The Labour Party backs a second referendum, promising that if they win, they will negotiate a new deal within three months, and present it to the people alongside an option to remain in the Union within six months – this time, as a legally binding referendum. The Tories remain committed to Brexit no matter what it may cost and promise to deliver it by January, based on Boris Johnson’s deal.
In a post-Brexit Britain, the Conservative Party Manifesto sets out that the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) will remain as it is, and that in the future EU nationals will be treated exactly the same as other foreign nationals. As such, people coming into the country from the EU will only be able to access unemployment, housing, and child benefits after five years, in the way non-EEA migrants currently do. They will also have to pay an NHS health surcharge to access public health services, the price of which the Tories promise to increase to reflect the full cost of use. The only care that will still be free under a Tory government is emergency care for those in need.
Labour, on the other hand, have a different approach. They propose to end the uncertainty of the EUSS by making it a declaratory scheme instead of an application process. A declaratory scheme would essentially establish that the rights one has now are carried through with them for their lifetime. Residents can then obtain physical evidence of their lawful lifetime residence right by asking for it. Lobbying groups such as the 3 million have endorsed such a declaratory scheme, arguing it ends the uncertainty of the EUSS, shields against the hostile environment policies, as well as guarantees favourable treatment of UK citizens living abroad in return.
The Liberal Democrats, then, have no proposals in place for if Brexit goes ahead. Their view is that they will do anything to stop it from happening; even if they do not win the election, the party says they will back a second referendum and campaign to remain.
On immigration policy, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats promise to end the hostile environment, decriminalise illegal working, and end indefinite detention. The Liberal Democrats openly advocate for a 28-day-time limit on detention, and for any decision to detain an individual for longer than 72 hours to be approved by the courts. This position was recommended to Parliament by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in their 16th report of the 2017-2019 session. Additionally, the LibDems want to close seven out of nine detention centres currently open in the UK, whereas Labour promises to close two of them, and to use the immediate savings towards a fund of £20 million to support the survivors of modern slavery, human trafficking and domestic violence.
All parties promise support for victims of the Windrush scandal, with the Conservative party offering to build a memorial for the Windrush generation. In the same symbolistic vein, the Tories have moved away from their rhetoric of “reducing net migration” although their manifesto still states that they will “keep the numbers down.” They propose to do this by instating a points-based system not unlike the one in Australia. The points-based system would be based on three pillars: education, English language skills, and criminality. The Tories promises to make decisions on who comes to this country on the basis of the skills they have and the contribution they can make to the country – not where they come from. The visa system, under the points-based system, would be rebooted, with many old visa routes being brought back to life, such as the post-study visa extension, the NHS visa, and the new start-up visa. The Tories also promise entry and exit checks, emphasising that the British people will be able to take back control of their borders.
The Liberal Democrats propose the most radical reforms to the immigration system as a whole. Not only do they promise to break down existing barriers as well as add new routes to permanent status - they also propose to remove the exemption of the Data Protection Act for immigration as well as separate enforcement and border control from decision-making. The former measure protects data privacy by establishing a firewall to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement. The latter would prevent perverse factors from playing a role in decision-making by taking policymaking out of the Home Office altogether. Instead, the Liberal Democrats want to establish a new arms-length, non-political agency to take over processing applications, thus increasing the separation of power. As such, they would move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education respectively. They would also move asylum policymaking from the Home Office to the Department for International Development and establish a dedicated unit to improve the speed and quality of decision-making. This may seem like a welcome development for those who have said that the Home Office needs to change its approach to asylum from the ground up, but the Institute of Government report was equivocal about the benefits of such separation. It could trouble accountability by splitting up decision-making, and case management where individuals and families don’t fit neatly into one category could be difficult. And finally, the Liberal Democrats, like Labour, will seek to reduce the fee for registering a child as a British citizen from £1,012 to the cost of administration – something that we’ve advocated for ourselves.
Labour, then, says the Tories have required landlords, teachers and medical staff to work as unpaid immigration officers when they created a hostile environment, instead of setting up an effective border control. A Labour government will therefore review the border controls to make them more effective. They also promise to scrap the 2014 Immigration Act passed by the then-Conservative government, restore legal aid cuts, and end the deportation of family members of people entitled to be here and end the minimum income requirements which separate families. They focus on cooperation with Europe and especially France to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean and end the horrific camps and homelessness which the current immigration regime has led to. Similarly to the Liberal Democrats, Labour will allow asylum seekers to work whilst awaiting a decision on their status, and decriminalise illegal working.
All three parties claim to be advocating for humane, fair and compassionate immigration regimes. It is now up to the voters to show whose programme is most convincing.
Christopher Desira is Seraphus’ director and founding solicitor. He has over 15 years of experience in immigration law. Since 2018, his team has been special advisors on Brexit to the European Commission Representation in the UK. In that position, his team gives free non-political information sessions on EU citizens’ rights in the UK in the context of Brexit.
So, you give workshops to advise on the EU Settlement Scheme. What happens at those workshops exactly, what is your goal there?
It’s a two-pronged aim, really. On the one hand, we want to communicate the scheme and the need to apply by the deadline, and then secondly, we try to give everyone the tools they need to make the applications themselves.
We try to explain the EU Settlement Scheme as in simple terms so that EU citizens and their family members can make applications under the scheme themselves without the assistance of a lawyer. The seminars are very practical-based – we tell them how to apply, what questions come up, how to answer those questions, what the pitfalls are and what evidence they need to provide.
What happens if people don’t apply by the deadline?
If someone does not apply before the deadline, on New Year’s Day 2021, under the current rules, they will be unlawful residents in the UK. That has immense implications: if you’re unlawfully resident, that means all of the hostile environment policies which are in place in the UK will apply to you.
The hostile environment mechanisms are built to make life in the UK as difficult as possible, forcing you to leave the country. Your employer will have the right to terminate your employment, your landlord could terminate your tenancy agreement, you can no longer use your driver’s licence, etc. If someone does not apply before the deadline, that is exactly what will happen to them: they will be unlawfully resident, and all of those mechanisms will start hitting them.
Brandon Lewis, a Home Office Minister, got into a lot of trouble about a month ago when he he told a German newspaper that EU citizens who fail to apply to the settlement scheme will be deported. But in reality, what he was saying was true, and this is part of the challenges that we face. The Home Office communication campaigns are good. They are becoming warmer and friendlier, sending out messages to EU citizens saying that the UK wants – and needs – them to stay. What the Home Office communication campaigns fail to do, however, is stress the importance of applying before the deadline. They don’t stress that if one doesn’t apply before the deadline, they will be unlawfully resident in the UK, and the Home Office have the right to ask them to leave. Those messages might start appearing nearer to the deadline, but it might be a little too late for some.
Who do you think bears responsibility for people failing to apply because they don’t have the knowledge and why?
There is a lot of people out there that are doing a lot of good work to try and make sure that we reach everyone we need to reach but the ultimate responsibility is with the Home Office.
Although they are doing a lot of good work on communications, it is likely not going to be enough. I worry that the communications may be used against late applicants later. So that for example, if someone applies late and their reason is that they did not know about the scheme, the Home Office can say: “We did all of this work to let you know, so that is not a good enough reason to apply late.”
In any case, whatever the Home Office does and whatever all these other organisations such as charities or the European Commission do, there will always be groups that don’t apply, no matter how much communications work has been done. The UK government has an obligation to those people as well. They need to make sure that 100% of people who need to apply under the scheme effectively do so. The Home Office can change current rules to ensure no one fall unlawfully resident on New Years Day 2021, and they may well do so, but if that doesn't happen those who apply late will be doing so while unlawfully residing here.
Which type of audience usually shows up to the workshops?
It depends who is organising the workshops and who they are advertised to; it varies immensely. We have done workshops set up by the advice sector who want to help their local community, for example. Those would be advertised to the whole European community there, so anyone can turn up. Sometimes it is more specific, for example if it is a Polish charity, it is catered towards polish citizens. Or if it is a consulate or embassy which organises the workshop, then it is only citizens from that specific country who turn up. And then there are also community champions. A community champion is someone within a community that is not a legal entity or part of a charity, who wants to help their community on their own initiative because they know their community needs help.
Each community necessitates different types of sessions and poses different challenges. The Home Office communications campaigns work for a lot of people, but there is going to be just as many people that will require their own community to help, and if there is no one within their community who is going to point that out, then they are going to miss out on the knowledge they need to apply under the scheme.
What are some of those challenges? What do you think is the biggest barrier for people to apply?
There is a long list. It could be language, or education. It could be physical or mental health issues, dependency issues, street homelessness, living in precarious residence accommodation, or a combination of a number of those. More broadly, it could be people living in religious or close-knit communities, like the Roma community for example. People with criminal convictions, however minor or serious, would also be less eager to apply because they would be worried about the impact of those offences on the outcome of their application.
It really is a long list.
Yes, and to make matters worse, usually someone who has some kind of vulnerability has more than one vulnerable characteristic. For example, someone who has dependency issues may also be street homeless. Needless to say, the more issues an individual has, the harder it is to reach them and the harder it will be to ensure those people apply without any legal assistance.
Another category of people I’m worried about is those who simply don’t apply on principle. I have met many people who have said they don’t want to apply to the settlement scheme. They think: “Why should I, I have been here for 40 years, what are they going to do? I’m 72 years old, are they really going to put me on a plane? Are they really going to send me home?” Well, unfortunately, the answer to that is yes, that is exactly what they will do, or at least they can if they want to under the current rules. However old you are, however young you are, if you don’t have a status and you’re unlawfully resident on New Year’s Day 2021.
Is the Home Office making an effort to address these issues?
To be fair to them, they have listened to advice on the fact that technology is going to be a barrier and they have tried to find ways to resolve that. For example, there is a service called assisted digital service, where people can get practical assistance with filling in the forms. They are listening where they can and want to.
Many local authorities are taking the initiative themselves with so-called “one stop shops” where people can turn up and use a computer if they cannot access one, and where staff will help them engage with the technical barriers as well. But it’s just not going to be enough; there will still be many people who will not or cannot apply unless they have someone holding their hands for the whole process, someone applying for them.
What do you think is the one thing which should be done differently in relation to the Settlement Scheme?
Part 2 of the withdrawal agreement discusses EU citizens’ rights. It outlines two ways of sorting out people’s residency rights. On the one hand, it discusses how to implement an application scheme to grant rights and how simple such a scheme should be. If a country does not want to implement that type of scheme, then it discusses an alternative system of declaring rights. The reason why there are two different mechanisms in the withdrawal agreement is because this is not just an issue in the UK– it’s a problem in the EU more broadly, as each member state will need to decide what they are going to do with British citizens living abroad.
So, in summary, each EU member states has two options. The first is to implement an application process, which means that at some point in the future, anyone that does not apply and gets granted a status will be unlawfully resident, at which point in time their residency rights end. That is the model the UK has adopted.
Alternatively, countries can introduce a declaratory scheme. A declaratory scheme essentially establishes that the rights one has now will be carried through with them for their lifetime. Residents can then obtain physical evidence of their lawful lifetime residence right by asking for it. This is kind of how EU law works: as long as you are doing the right things, you acquire EU rights, and these rights continue with you as long as you continue to do the right things. Applying this to the UK, as long as one would have lived in the UK by a specific date, they would continue to be lawful residents in the UK. That means someone could never be unlawfully resident as long as they lived in the UK before a certain cut-off date. All they need to do is show up and say they lived in the UK since before 31 December 2020, confirm some information, and the government would give them a piece of paper, no questions ask.
The settlement scheme should be a declaratory scheme instead of what it is now. I think that is the only way we can protect everyone, including the most vulnerable to exclusion, through this process.
Summary: Children’s rights are not for the Home Office to block, and no child should be prevented from securing British citizenship to which they are entitled by law. On Tuesday November 26th, the first day of a court case challenging the lawfulness of the Home Office fee of £1,012 for a child to register as a British citizen, Amnesty International will be protesting outside the Royal Courts of Justice to visually demonstrate significant support for the children affected by this government profiteering. Show your support and join them.
The Secretary of State, on his British citizenship application form guide, outlines the importance of British citizenship to an individual:
“Citizenship is a ‘significant life event’. Apart from allowing a child to apply for a British citizen passport, British citizenship gives them the opportunity to participate more fully in the life of their local community as they grow up.”
The British Nationality Act 1981 ensures that children who grow up in the United Kingdom (either UK-born or not), who feel just as British as their British-born friends, have rights to register as British citizens. Failure to register means one is excluded not only in the present, for example because they are not allowed to go on certain school trips, but will also continue to be marginalised in the future, when it comes to obtaining all the perks which come with British citizenship, including the right to remain, the right to vote in all elections, access to public funds, health services, and other social benefits.
Registration is fundamentally different from naturalisation, which is the process adult migrants need to go through in order to acquire citizenship. The essential difference is the role of the Home Office when processing the applications. In naturalisation cases, that role is to decide, at the Home Office’s discretion and balancing all relevant factors, whether the applicant should be made a British citizen. Contrastingly, in registration cases, it is simply to recognise a pre-existing right to citizenship laid out in statute.
Academic researchers have estimated there to be around 120,000 children in the UK without British citizenship, around 65,000 of whom were born in the UK. However, many of these children do not register for citizenship, not because they are not eligible, but simply because they cannot afford to. Since 2007, the Home Office have started charging applicants more than the administrative cost of processing the application, aggravating the situation. The Home Office states that the fee, currently priced at £1,012 is made up of two parts: £372 for the administrative cost of processing registration, and £640 as a profit element to finance the immigration system. In other words, the Home Office is profiting off children who are merely claiming what is rightfully theirs, and they are making twice as much profit as the actual cost price.
In practice, the Home Office fee hinders children in exercising their rights under the 1981 Act. This sort of exclusionary policy not only jeopardises a child’s start in life; it also undermines their future. Ultimately, if a child is unable to pay the £1012 fee today, that may well be the reason why that same child cannot afford to go to university eight years from now, because they cannot get a student loan. In addition, their children won't be recognised as British either, even if they are the second or third generation in their family born and brought up in the UK.
This outrageously discriminatory Home Office policy needs to stop. Children’s rights are not for the Home Office to block because of finances, and no child should be prevented from securing their British citizenship. In order to allow children to exercise the rights which were conferred upon them by Parliament, the Home Office fee should be reduced; the profit element of the fee should be removed altogether. In addition, for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, public funds should be made available to cover the fee in full. Children should not have to raise funds to pay for their registration rights, particularly where these rights are by entitlement. That is why the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), a London-based charity which fights for British citizenship rights of children born in the UK to migrant parent(s), is challenging the lawfulness of the Home Office fee in court.
PRCBC’s case is centred on challenging the Home Office’s flawed, quid pro quo argument on which they rely to justify the elevated fee. The basic premise of their approach is that those who are profiting from the immigration system, should also be paying for it. However, since these children are merely asking for recognisance of their entitlement, their applications for registration fall outside of immigration law and policy. Registering as a British citizen is not a benefit the Home Office grants these children. Rather, it is a recognition of a right these children already have by law. Therefore, they are not profiting from the system, and it is only natural that they should not be made to pay for it.
British citizenship, especially for children and young adults, is about much more than just getting the right documents. It is about identity, integration, a sense of belonging, and about confirmation that the UK is their home. It is about having the same rights, feeling part of their peer group and much more. That is why on Tuesday 26 November, the second day of the PRCBC proceedings, Amnesty will be protesting outside the Royal Courts of Justice to visually demonstrate significant support for PRCBC and for the children affected by this government profiteering.
Show your support and join them.
On 11 September 2019, the UK government announced an extension of the post-study visa rules. International students who complete their degree at a recognised institution will be able to stay in the UK for two years after graduation, increasing their chances of finding long-term employment upon completion of their studies.
The current immigration policy gives students just four months to find work after graduating. As the country is preparing itself for a fall in recruitment from the EU for education and employment alike when freedom of movement ends after Brexit, the announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by both the education sector, which only benefits from attracting more international students who pay higher tuition fees, and the business sector alike.
Grace Kuperman, a US national, graduated with a First-Class Politics BA from a Russel Group university. She is now writing her dissertation for her MSc in Security Studies at University College London.
“For certain sectors, such as British politics, I understand to an extent to why British employees are preferred, but I have studied here for almost four years now and I feel as though certain fields in the UK are missing out on valuable potential employees due to visa restrictions.”
The pressure of the current rules on international students in the UK should not be underestimated. One recent graduate, Tracy Jawad, moved back to Beirut, Lebanon in October 2019 when her student visa expired. She studied Politics at Queen Mary University of London.
“I think that a lot of people from the same background as me just jumped into masters to avoid having to leave the country. I decided not to do that because I wanted to get some work experience first, and because a masters degree is a substantial investment.
I was applying for graduate jobs from October 2018 onwards. It was an extremely difficult and unfair process; often job descriptions did not specify that they would only accept UK, EU, or even Commonwealth citizens. Only when I got rejected, after having gone through the whole application process, would I find out. Even then, I was the one who had to reach out and ask for feedback as to why I didn’t get the job, and companies would then respond my application was side-lined because an international student is less employable than a home or EU applicant.”
The Home Office publicises the reforms to the rules as an answer to the problem Tracy outlines: a new way of attracting young international talent. Home Secretary Priti Patel championed the extended post-study visa as a “new way for talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, to study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.” However, there are multiple caveats.
The Home Secretary’s enthusiastic announcement fails to mention that the two-year extension is not a “new route” into graduate success. It is simply a revocation of the current policy, which was controversially put in place by Theresa May in 2012 as part of the hostile environment policy against illegal immigrants in the UK, and which has been contested ever since.
Tracy: “If there is such a hostile environment against international students, then UK universities should not be allowed to use us as poster boys, or as alluring marketing ploys. All you ever hear about Queen Mary is how diverse it is, but ultimately, as one of those people bringing diversity to the university, I have not benefitted from Queen Mary’s international community; I’m back in Beirut now.”
The new policy will not apply retroactively; only students graduating in 2021 and thereafter will be able to access the scheme. This puts current students at a competitive disadvantage with future students.
MM, who wishes to remain anonymous, moved to London from Egypt to study Business Management at undergraduate level and is now reading a MSc in International Marketing at King’s College London, explains:
“I don’t think I got a fair shot at finding a job in the UK, definitely not. Due to the preference for EU and UK graduates, job offers clearly state that they do not sponsor an international working visa or permit. Because of this, I didn’t even apply for jobs within the UK, as I felt like there was no point. Instead I embarked on a masters degree to have more specific qualifications within my industry, and hopefully that will increase my employability.”
“I’m happy my younger sister might have better chances at finding a career within the UK should she choose to study here, but for me, it is too little, too late.”
Tracy, who will be eligible for the two-year extension should she start her masters next academic year, says:
“When I heard of the post-study visa extension, I was mostly really happy for myself, that I did not immediately started my masters upon graduation. Thanks to my decision to move back and rethink my options, I will now have two years after my masters degree. That is such a relief, because finding a graduate job is not something that can be done in 4 months.”
“For the UK more broadly, more people are now going to want to study there because the new rules show a willingness to invest rather than just make money out of international students. Plus, although there will still be a cost to hiring an international graduate, it will be easier for students to find companies which are more likely to take on that financial burden.”
However, even given extra time, international graduates in certain sectors will still be disadvantaged. Grace attests to this: “Fields that are flooded with large multi-national corporations, like finance, can afford to hire international students. For me, who is interested in international organisations and politics, it is much harder. NGO’s are famously short on funding and prefer British applicants above all else.”
Tracy confirms: “STEM majors are more likely to get jobs in the UK than humanities majors. When I spoke to other Lebanese people who were applying to jobs at the same time as me, but with Engineering or Computer Science degrees, they were clearly more likely to at least get interviews. It requires funds to sponsor foreign students and unfortunately, humanities organisations do not have as much money as STEM companies. That is not how it should be.”
As the new rules apply to all non-British students, they will bring EU students to a level playing field with international students. This would not only boost the economy, but also avoid a brain drain to countries whose rules are more relaxed, and let their graduates stay for longer periods of time post-graduation. At least that’s the idea. In practice, EU students will face many challenges: tuition fees, already elevated for international students, will probably rise further for those from the EU, until they are equal to international levels. Meanwhile, EU funding and the future of Erasmus after Brexit are all up in the air.
It is unfair to make international students pay almost twice as much in tuition fees, without any guarantee of a job afterwards, or at the very least the time to look for one. From that perspective, the post-study visa extension is more like a bare minimum than “a transforming new way for talented international students to build successful careers in the UK,” as it has been described by Ms. Patel. Instead of slightly improving international students’ perks at the cost of dragging EU student benefits down, the government’s aim should be to increase all graduate opportunities. University graduates benefit the UK just as much as the other way around. That should be enough of a reason to end the marketisation of education once and for all, and although a two-year extension may seem like a step in the right direction on the face of it, it is not the end of the road for international or EU students.
The second quarterly UK Home Office statistics on the EU Settlement Scheme scheme has been published.
According to the Home Office it 'complements high-level monthly statistical releases on the progress, taking an in-depth look at the number of applications and their outcomes, covering the period between the launch of the beta scheme to the end of Q3 2019 (28/08/18-30/09/19).'
One thing that stands out is the low number of applicants from the age group 65 or older. According to the statistics only 2% of the total applications came from people aged 65 or older.
The Home Office say that the share of applications from this age group matches their estimates for age distribution of EU citizens in the UK. Indeed @ons predicts a share of 2% to 3% for elderly EU citizens.
But some embassies/consulates which register their citizens record a higher percentage of residents aged 65 or older, with reports in the region of 5-6%. This suggests that take up of the scheme by this age group is currently low.
Anecdotally, this reflects my experience meeting those aged 65 or over living across the UK through the course of the last 2 years. While many can and have applied, a majority of whom I have met would be unable to get through the system unaided.
I was in Kettering on 28/09/19 meeting a community of Italian residents aged 65 or older. The majority would not have been able to apply unaided despite efforts to verbally walk them through the process. Most did not have mobile numbers, nearly all did not have email address.
Instead of a presentation and Q&A we gave up our Saturday to submit applications on their behalf. We registered over 30 residents, all of whom were on course to obtain settled status but would have been unable to do so without this assistance.
Not withstanding the grant funding, the various communication campaigns and the free services we do have out there, I am still concerned that many 65 or older residents will struggle to apply before the deadline and access their status after the deadline.