In her major speech on Brexit today the Prime Minister confirmed that immigration control will be a government priority in the forthcoming negotiations following the invocation of Article 50 prior to the end of March.
Freedom of Movement
It is clear that the government will not seek to retain membership of the single market and will not continue to accept the “four freedoms” of goods, capital, services and people. Instead the UK will seek access to the European market through a new Free Trade Agreement. Consequently EEA nationals will no longer be permitted to travel freely to the UK to work, study, invest or retire. This means that EEA citizens are likely to face new travel and work related restrictions on arrival in the UK.
Control of Immigration
Theresa May restated her commitment to controlling the number of people coming to Britain from the EU. She said:
“We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets – but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest”.
The Prime Minister referred to the pressure on public services caused by high net migration whilst at the same time recognising that the UK benefits from skilled migration.
She has not yet given an indication of the mechanisms for immigration control following Brexit. It remains likely that a form of work permit regime will be introduced for EEA nationals although the scope and architecture of the new immigration schemes are unlikely to be fully identified until progress has been made in the negotiations.
Rights of EU Nationals in Britain and British Nationals in the EU
The Prime Minister made clear that the government wishes to guarantee the rights of EEA citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as possible. It seems likely therefore that the government will press for the grant of permanent residence to British nationals living in the EEA as well as EEA nationals in Britain regardless of the duration of time they will have exercised a treaty right prior to the date the UK eventually leaves the EU. However, all member states of the EU will have to agree to this approach – so the uncertainty continues for those individuals who may not qualify for permanent residence under the five year provisions prior to the date the UK eventually separates from the EU.