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Think tanks says "unfeasible" to create new immigration system by April 2019

Date of Publication: 
4 May 2017

Institute for Government looks at challenges government will face implementing post-Brexit immigration regime

Think tanks says "unfeasible" to create new immigration system by April 2019

04 May 2017

The Institute for Government, an independent think tank, yesterday published a report looking at the administrative challenges the Government will face in implementing a new immigration regime as the UK leaves the European Union (EU).

The 29-page report, Implementing Brexit: Immigration, can be read here.

As noted in the Guardian, the report warns ministers that it will be "unfeasible" to create a new immigration system by April 2019, when Britain plans to leave the EU.

The report states: "The scale of the task makes successful implementation of a new immigration regime by April 2019 unfeasible, not just for government, who will need to design and deliver the regime, but also the employers, landlords and providers of public services who both rely on the system and support its functioning. The Prime Minister has recognised that an 'implementation phase' will be required post-Brexit. For immigration, this will require the continuation of free movement, possibly for several years post-Brexit."

The Institute for Government concludes that the Government should keep the current immigration regime for a period post-Brexit to make way for a 'phased implementation', which would require the continuation of free movement, possibly for several years.

Jill Rutter, the Institute's Brexit programme director, told the Guardian: "The political imperative for change in immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge. The scale of the task – creating a new immigration system – is huge and it is critical that government gets it right."

Séamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, told the Guardian: "What employers don't want is the instability of having to waste a great deal of time and effort learning to navigate multiple rounds of changes and new rules. That would create a bureaucratic nightmare for recruiters, especially smaller firms. If something's worth doing it's worth doing right, so if that means continuing with current arrangements for a period of a few years until the Home Office can put the infrastructure in place to implement a new system, then it will be worth the wait."

In its report, the Institute for Government highlights the following key recommendations:

• Government must clarify the rights and entitlements of EU nationals living in the UK, and provide them with documentation attesting to their status. Without that there will be confusion for employers, landlords and providers of public services – as well as prolonged uncertainty for citizens.

• The Home Office could need up to 5,000 additional staff to process applications if those looking to remain in the UK post-Brexit are required to apply through the current permanent residency process under existing eligibility rules and levels of scrutiny. If government's priority is providing these EU nationals with the necessary documentation as quickly and effectively as possible, it must recognise that the current permanent residency process is not fit for purpose and must introduce a streamlined process.

• Government should recognise now that a new immigration regime for post-Brexit EU migrants will not be ready by April 2019, with time required to consult on plans, to implement the system and for employers to adapt. The length of the implementation period for immigration depends on the extent to which it features in negotiations. A new regime could be in place within a year after Brexit, but if the decision is delayed until talks conclude, implementation is likely to be several years post-Brexit.

• Government should avoid making changes until the new regime is ready. Multiple changes increase the disruption to labour markets and administrative burdens. That means free movement will have to continue post-Brexit until the new regime is ready to go live.

• Government should keep changes to the way in which EU nationals are processed at the physical border to a minimum, at least in the short term. This will support the commitment of both the UK and the EU to maintaining the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland.

• In order to improve immigration enforcement, government will need to increase resources in enforcement units across the Home Office and HM Revenue & Customs, as well as those monitoring compliance with the National Living Wage.

• Many people see current immigration procedures as complex and burdensome. Government should use Brexit as an opportunity to design an immigration system that is both effective for enforcement and simpler for the individuals and organisations involved.