The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee has warned that the UK immigration system faces serious problems in its report “Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration”. Questions are raised regarding the Home Office’s ability to implement the systems and staffing required to deliver proposed Brexit changes whilst there is significant criticism over the continued uncertainty over the status of EU nationals and post-Brexit UK immigration regulation.
The Committee notes that the delay in setting out a vision for UK immigration post-Brexit is creating uncertainty for UK businesses, anxiety for EU citizens already in the UK, preventing proper planning and putting already overstretched immigration officials in an ‘impossible position’.
Lack of clarity
With little more than a year to go, the Government is still failing to set out crucial details on the registration of current residents or what will replace the current freedom of movement regulations. Brexit is due to take effect in March 2019 and the Home Office’s recently announced system of registration for EEA nationals already living in the UK is proposed to go live at the end of this year (see here). However, the rules that will govern residency status still lack crucial detail, particularly for those with gaps in residency and for those hoping to be joined in the future by partners or family members.
There is at present no detail of how any future scheme will be policed. The Committee calls for the Government to set out how the registration scheme will be enforced, whether it intends for employers, landlords and banks to check registration papers, as is presently the case for non-EEA nationals. The Committee also raises “serious concerns” about extending the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy to EU citizens given the scale of errors and the absence of any evidence that it is fair or effective.
Entrants after Brexit
Theresa May has indicated that entrants arriving in the UK after March 2019 should not expect to be considered under the existing EEA Regulations. If the UK will operate a new system for EU citizens arriving after March 2019, it is incumbent upon the Government to publish details for such a system as early as possibly to give clarity to employers and individuals alike. The committee, however, believes that the Home Office lacks the resources to operate a second system of regulation in the timeframe remaining:
“[We do] not believe it is feasible for the Government to establish two new effective registration schemes (one for existing residents and one for new arrivals after Brexit day) by March 2019.”
The committee calls upon the Government to provide clear and accessible guidance on the rights that UK and EEA citizens will enjoy after Brexit. The needless uncertainty prevents individuals and businesses from planning for the future.
“Failure to set out detailed plans for the registration and transition period soon will make it impossible for the already overstretched UKVI, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement to do their job properly.”
UKVI, Immigration Enforcement and UK Border Force
UKVI, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force are likely to face a substantial increase in the volume and complexity of work they undertake. The Committee found a workforce already under significant strain dealing with current workloads and dedicated staff in desperate need of greater resources and support. It concluded that the Home Office resource plans are insufficient to address existing weaknesses let alone meet the substantial additional burden that Brexit will place on the system.
Steps taken so far by UKVI are deemed to be insufficient to operate a smooth registration scheme for EEA nationals raising the fear of delays in the processing of applications.
Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP commented:
"Decisions and announcements keep being delayed. Crucial details are still lacking…
We need urgent clarity about both registration and border plans for next year so that Parliament can scrutinise them and so that families, employers and officials can plan.The lack of detail with just over a year to go is irresponsible. We recognise that the Government needs time to consider long term changes, but the Home Office urgently needs to set out its intentions for next year. Will there be one registration scheme or two? Same rules during the transition or not? Extra border checks or not?
Are they planning to ask employers to check registration documents? Or landlords? Will the same rules apply for Norway and Iceland as the EU? Can you still get settled status if you move regularly between the UK and EU for work? If these issues need to be resolved in the negotiations, Ministers should at least set out what their negotiating objectives are so that Parliament can debate them in advance.
The litany of questions that remain over the status of EU citizens is causing needless anxiety and uncertainty, both for EU citizens and their families and for employers who need to plan. Ministers need to provide urgent answers.
The Government does not seem to appreciate the immense bureaucratic challenge they are facing or how much time and resources they need to plan on Brexit. The Home Office will end up in a real mess next year if there isn't enough time to sort things out."
Urgent clarity is needed over the Government’s immigration objectives for the transition period so that Parliament can debate and scrutinise the proposals before they are finalised.
Insufficient resources have been allocated and insufficient staff are planned to be sure of a smooth registration process or to cope with additional border requirements on people or goods after March 2019. The lack of preparedness and resources will impact upon all non-residents looking to enter the UK, whether it be through lengthier processing times for visa applications or longer queues at the airport.
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