Immigration and EU Expansion

A Lord Ashcroft referendum day poll of over 10,000 voters found that one-third of the voters said their main reason for voting leave was that it offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders. Later polling shortly afterwards showed that up to one half of those polled who had voted leave, listed immigration is the most important reason.

In the West Midlands and East Midlands, the leave vote was 59.3% and 58.8% respectively. These areas had suffered disproportionately from the deindustrialisation which had taken place since the late 1980s. It has been pointed out that the number of European Union citizens working in these areas was relatively small, less than 1.5% of the total arrivals of EU immigrants since the Eastern European accession.

The issue of immigration became highly politicised and was reflected in the success of the UK Independence Party. It was argued that the UK could have a rational system of immigration treating all third countries equally, including former Commonwealth countries under a rational skills test, after Brexit.

The UK government in response to political pressure published targets for immigration which proved impossible to meet. The outcomes fell well short of the actual outcome. The UK passed the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 to clamp down on illegal immigration. The legislation put greater responsibilities on employers, landlords and other third parties in terms of responsibility for ensuring legal migration.

A feature of the increasingly strict third country UK immigration rules was that relatives of UK nationals from former Commonwealth countries much found it increasingly difficult to obtain work visas in the United Kingdom, in marked contrast to the complete freedom of EU migrants to enter to work.

Features of Recent Immigration

The basic EU principle of free movement of workers meant that EU migrants could enter the UK in order to work without immigration controls. This contrasts markedly with the position in respect of non-EU nationals, which are subject to the UK immigration rules. In 2015, net immigration to the UK from other EU states was approximately 172,000 and approximately 191,000 from non-EU countries. New EU national migration was 268,214.

It has been said that the United Kingdom economy has become good at creating relatively low paid work. The examples of the fast-food industry housecleaning child and eldercare delivery services Uber drivers are often given. Much EU migration to the UK was by persons from Eastern Europe seeking low paid jobs in the services sector which British citizens were unwilling to do for the wages offered.

Most of the new migrants were from Eastern Europe following the accession of eight Eastern European states in 2004 and the later accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. The UK had been one of only three states to allow immediate access for migrants from the Eastern European states.

A feature of the new migration is that much of it has occurred in areas where there had previously been few migrants so that its effect was more noticeable. In some areas, the perceived effect was a depression in local wages, an increase in rents and increased pressure on public services.

EU Citizens Rights

The European Union free movement rules, although expanded significantly in the 1990s and 2000s with the concept of EU citizenship, do ultimately require that a person has a job in order to exercise the rights. Workers include those who are work-seekers for a period. Workers must be allowed a reasonable time to apprise themselves of opportunities for employment take the necessary steps to seek employment.

Under the Citizens Rights Directive, citizens of EU states and family members have the right of residence in another state for up to three months without being subject to conditions such as resources conditions and medical insurance, other than having a valid identity card or passport proving their EU nationality. Beyond the three months’ period, persons must generally be employed or engaged in self-employment or have sufficient resources to qualify under certain other headings.

EU migrants enjoy equal treatment with nationals under certain conditions. Workers, including work-seekers, enjoy equal treatment in respect of social advantages in the host states. That state may impose proportionate, justified residence requirements to establish a real link with the labour market of the host state.

UK Benefits System

The United Kingdom in-work benefits system enables low paid employment to a greater extent than that of other European states. Working tax credit and child tax credits (gradually being replaced by universal credit) are available to persons who work and who are on low incomes. Housing benefit and council tax court is also available to those in work and on lower incomes.

A distinction is made between social assistance and social advantages in the EU legislation, the latter being more directly relevant to access to the labour market. The UK working tax credits being effectively supportive of low-wage employment were categorised as social advantages and open to EU migrants on a broader basis than would apply in respect of social assistance.

The Citizens Rights Directive provides that workers retain their status while they are temporarily unable to work or are in involuntary unemployment after being employed for more than a year or in some circumstances, are engaged in vocational training.However, persons are not entitled to come and draw freely on the host state’s social assistance or social insurance benefits indefinitely. The EU Treaties apply to persons involved in economic activity as well as others who are capable of supporting themselves. Persons who are economically inactive and have sufficient means to support themselves may exercise rights under the Citizens Rights Directive.

The ill-fated new settlement agreement negotiated by David Cameron in February 2016 would have come into effect if the Brexit vote had not passed. It introduced an emergency brake on the payment of “in work” benefits for up to 5 years in situations of inflow of workers from other states of an exceptional magnitude over an extended period of time including as a result of past policies following previous EU enlargement.

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