CHAPTER 2 – AN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM FOR THE WHOLE OF THE UK
As we leave the European Union and free movement ends, unifying the United Kingdom and preserving relationships between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all parts of England will only become more important.
Immigration is a reserved matter in the UK, but the future border and immigration system must be flexible enough to service a range of interests and to reflect the diverse needs of all parts of the UK and our existing devolution agreements. We are taking a united approach in negotiations with the EU to secure a deal that works for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England.
2.1 As we work to build a future immigration system, we will engage with stakeholders across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as the Devolved Administrations. We are clear that our future system must work for every nation, region and community in the UK. We will make every effort to understand the individual positions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including special challenges that need to be recognised, for example, concerns in Northern Ireland due to the unique nature of the border with the Republic of Ireland.
2.2 We will also build on existing ties with our Overseas Territories and ensure their interests are reflected.
2.3 This is an opportunity to build an immigration system that works for all, and we will continue to engage with the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, in the EU Exit process and on wider immigration issues, including the introduction of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.
2.4 The UK is a global centre for business, tourism and migration. Its immigration policy and the protection of its external border, balances the need to facilitate and promote trade, tourism and legitimate migration with the imperative to protect the economy, businesses and the public from the harms caused by terrorism, serious organised crime, illegal immigration and the abuse of the excise regime.
2.5 Given the complexity and scale of the effort and the risk of distortions or unintended consequences that could result from divergent approaches between the nations of the UK, immigration policy is a reserved matter and the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill we intend to introduce will extend to the whole of the UK.
2.6 The UK Government and the Devolved Administrations share many common objectives relating to immigration. We are united on the UK remaining a strong, open, successful trading nation; we all recognise the benefits that migration can bring to the UK; and we want to ensure we manage immigration from the EU and the rest of the world, in the national interest – with flexibility to adapt to changing economic and social circumstances.
2.7 We are also all committed to protecting the status of EU citizens already living in the UK and ensuring reciprocal protection for UK nationals living in the EU. Key public sector workforces across the UK have been involved in the second pilot of the EU Settlement Scheme.
2.8 The single UK external border supports the implementation of a single UK policy of migration for employment. This ensures that employers, wherever they are in the UK, can mitigate local skill shortages by recruiting from outside and within the UK.
2.9 In recent years, immigration has contributed significantly to a growth in the population of the UK. This growth however has been uneven and there are some parts of the UK facing a significant demographic challenge. We recognise the demographic and economic challenges faced, in particular, by some rural communities across the UK. However, as the MAC note, “…immigration may not be an effective strategy for sustaining remote communities unless the reasons for locals leaving are addressed”.
2.10 It is important to recognise that immigration alone cannot sustainably address regional or local depopulation. The ‘offer’ in terms of employment, infrastructure, education, lifestyle, public services etc. all play a major role. While we will examine the specific needs of every part of the UK, we are clear that the Government is committed to a single, skills-based future border and immigration system.
2.11 Nonetheless, the Scottish Government and businesses in Scotland can, and have, influenced the determination of the UK-wide list of shortage occupations and have assisted the introduction of a Scotland specific shortage occupation list to cater for its particular labour market needs. This will continue after EU Exit. We will invite the MAC to consider whether the composition of the UK wide Shortage Occupation List (SOL) needs to be different for Northern Ireland and we will examine the case
for a similar approach in Wales, and also recognise the unique position of Northern Ireland as the only UK nation with a land border with the EU.
2.12 As now, future immigration policy will be reserved across the UK. The MAC considered the case for regional immigration policies but did not recommend introducing more regional variation. We agree with this approach. However, we remain committed to delivering for every nation in the UK.
2.13 We will deliver the visible change that the UK public want to see, but we will not rush the design and implementation of the future system. We will continue to ensure there are plenty of opportunities to influence this process, and as outlined in Chapter 15, final policy decisions will only be taken after extensive discussion and engagement, across Government, the Devolved Administrations and a wide
range of stakeholders. Engagement is a vital avenue through which to explore and consider the social and economic needs of all parts of the UK.
British Overseas Territories
2.14 There are 14 British Overseas Territories, of which 11 have permanent resident populations. These 11 are responsible for their own immigration policies. Their relationships with the EU vary widely; from Gibraltar which is currently part of the EU, to Anguilla which has a close relationship with outermost territories of EU Member States, to Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote settlement but dependent on access to EU markets for its rock lobster exports. We will continue to engage, both with the Overseas Territories and with the EU with a view to protecting their interests in the future relationship with the EU.
2.15 We are keen also, to make clear that the Overseas Territories are valued members of the British family. We will consider examining the case for continuing with a separate category of ‘British Overseas Territory Citizen’.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, and the only one of the British Overseas Territories to which EU law largely applies. The UK has committed to involving Gibraltar fully as we leave the EU, to ensure its priorities are taken account of.
Gibraltar is responsible for its own immigration policy. The Free Movement Directive currently applies to Gibraltar. Following our exit from the EU, Gibraltar will introduce its own rules to replace the Free Movement Directive; it will also apply any relevant agreements with the EU such as the Mobility Framework we have proposed.
British Overseas Territories
The UK’s Overseas Territories are highly diverse, and each has its own relationship with the UK. Excluding Gibraltar, as detailed above, the Overseas Territories have legislative independence over immigration. However, the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 conferred British Citizenship upon citizens of the Overseas Territories, which provides for a right of abode in the UK. This conferral is not reciprocal and British citizens did not receive any rights to reside in the Overseas Territories without permission.
The 2002 Act conferred British citizenship on those citizens of the British Overseas Territories alive at the time. This allows them to apply for and travel on a British citizens passport, without being subject to UK immigration control. Thereafter, the ability to hold British citizenship is in line with requirements in the UK.