Immigration after Brexit: change and continuity

A post Brexit immigration system should clamp down on low skilled EU immigration but adopt a lighter touch approach for professionals, argues Policy Exchange’s Head of Demography, Immigration and Integration, David Goodhart, in a new paper Immigration After Brexit.

As Britain considers its long term immigration needs, there is scope to maintain a high level of continuity for groups such as EU students and tourists. There should be a customised “light touch” work permit system for EU professionals and — as Britain weans itself off low skilled migration — there should be priority for low skilled workers ready to work antisocial hours, thereby acting more as complements than direct competitors to the British workforce. The paper argues that:

  • To deliver on Brexit, future immigration policy must bear down on low skilled migration
  • Openness and continuity should prevail in other areas. Visa-free travel should continue for short visits from the EU and conditions should remain broadly the same for tourists and students – including the same tuition fee arrangements for EU as for UK students.
  • Three new temporary channels should be opened up: the Youth Mobility Scheme which allows 18-30 year olds from countries like Australia and New Zealand to work in the UK for two years should be extended to young EU citizens; the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme should be revived for agriculture and horticulture; and the intra-company transfer scheme should be extended to EU companies.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee should work with industries that have become heavily dependent on low skilled EU workers to help manage the transition to lower dependence.
  • Businesses which slashed their training budgets for domestic workers when Eastern European labour became available in the mid-2000s should prioritise the development of domestic talent.
  • EU citizens coming to the UK for employment should in future need work permits, with a presumption of five years for professionals and two years for low skilled workers. Low skilled workers ready to apply for “antisocial hours visas” should be given priority.
  • Under a special “light touch” employer-led work permit scheme for EU professionals, the Home Office should guarantee to approve such permits in less than a month.
  • As a gesture of goodwill, EU citizens coming to the UK for an extended period in the future should qualify for social rights earlier than non-EU citizens, who must wait five years. This should be reviewed as the UK considers its future immigration policy as it ‘pivots to the world’.
  • The Home Office must invest more in hiring extra staff at Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration in order to deal with the greater workload of processing more work permits.

David Goodhart said:

“A Brexit without a clear end to free movement in its current form is neither possible nor desirable as it was clearly one of the biggest single factors behind the Brexit vote.


“One of the problems with freedom of movement is that it has created a new category of resident: someone who is neither a temporary visitor, such as a tourist, nor someone who is making a permanent commitment to a new country in the manner of the traditional immigrant. Many of those taking advantage of free movement in recent years have enjoyed the rights of the latter with the attitude of the former.


“Whilst we welcome an end to freedom of movement, a good post-Brexit immigration deal should maintain a lot of continuity in the movement of people, especially for students and professionals, and we can open up several new temporary work routes. There’s no reason for arrangements to change around tourists and students from the EU, but we do need to see a general reduction in the number of low skilled workers.


“The government, in partnership with industry and the Migration Advisory Committee, needs to set out how they will gradually reduce low skilled immigration from the EU, whilst maintaining a route for workers coming to do jobs with antisocial hours.”

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