Brexit fears are keeping European nationals away from the UK, a new report suggests, just days before the first stage of government proposals designed to reassure them comes into force.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that businesses are struggling to fill vacancies due to the drop in arrivals from European nationals. The number of EU-born workers in the UK increased by just 7,000 between the first quarter of 2017 to 2018, compared to 148,000 for the previous 12-month period.
Particularly hard-hit industries include IT, transport and construction, while health, social care and hospitality are also struggling to recruit, the CIPD notes.
UK Brexit plans
The news comes just two weeks ahead of the first phase of government Brexit plans for European nationals. The new rules, which take effect on a trial basis from 28 August and more widely by the end of the year, are intended to allay concerns among European nationals over their future in the UK.
However, uncertainty over whether a deal will actually be reached with other EU states, combined with confusion over the proposals, is diluting the effectiveness of the UK government’s message.
Draft legislation published by the Home Office, which will form part of the Immigration Rules, sets out the requirements for European nationals to remain in the UK. In summary, anyone arriving in the UK at any time until 31 December 2020 will be eligible to apply for pre-settled status. They will be issued with an “electronic document” valid for five years, confirming their right to remain in the UK.
Once someone has lived continuously in the UK for five years (either now or in the future), they are eligible for “settled status”, which is effectively the same as permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain.
The person will not need to show they have been in employment throughout the five years or have held health insurance during this period in order to qualify. The only requirement is a physical presence in the UK, subject to criminality checks. This means that many people who are currently ineligible for permanent residence, will theoretically qualify for settled status once the scheme takes effect.
The Home Office has made much of its plan to digitise the application process, and has also highlighted the fact that, where possible, it will draw directly on HMRC records to reduce the documentary burden on applicants.
While a user-friendly approach is to be welcomed in theory, it raises a number of practical concerns. It seems likely that tech-savvy, professionals, who have been in steady employment for five years, will benefit from the new system.
However, in other situations, the system is likely to be far less straightforward. For example, in cases where HMRC and later the DWP cannot confirm residence, the burden will be on the applicant to provide documentation demonstrating this.
The draft legislation sets out “preferred” documents and “unacceptable” documents for doing this, and applicants will be required to provide an item that covers every single month of residence. Many people, particularly those who are vulnerable, homeless or who move around frequently, will find this impossible.
Another concern is the fact that the application can only be made online. People who are computer illiterate or who do not have easy access to the internet will find this a challenge.
Furthermore, the fact that no physical document will be issued to those with pre-settled or settled status, is likely to create a number of practical problems on a day-to-day basis. For example, it is not yet clear how landlords or employers will confirm the veracity of an electronic document.
There has also been substantial criticism over the criminality checks, which are much tougher than the current provisions applicable to European nationals. In particular, individuals who have already successfully won an appeal against deportation in the past may now find they fall at the first hurdle under the new scheme.
Only European nationals covered
It is also worth noting that, at least at present, the new scheme will only cover European nationals. Nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland will only be eligible if separate agreements can be reached with their governments.
In short, while the Home Office claims that securing the rights of EU citizens has been a priority in negotiations, there is still room for serious concern over how this scheme will work in practice. Furthermore, as the latest CIPD report shows, the government’s message is clearly failing to reach those individuals who might benefit most.
Finally, it is important to remember that the entire scheme currently rests on a final agreement being reached with other EU states. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there is simply no way to know what lies ahead for the many Europeans who have made this country their home.
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