So much misinformation was circulated about immigration in the lead up to the referendum that it is difficult for UK employers and EU workers to know what to expect for UK immigration after Brexit.
In fact, it is likely to be some time before the Government makes any definite policy announcements.
To encourage cool heads during this period of uncertainty, we have identified five popular myths that were broadcast about EU workers and immigration prior to the referendum.
- No one was in a position to promise anything
Before the referendum we wrote in our article about preparing for Brexit that, given the extensive negotiation process that must take place with the EU after Brexit, it was impossible to predict what the UK’s future immigration policy might look like until a new agreement between the EU and the UK had been finalised.
No campaigner was in any position to make any guarantees about EU immigration after Brexit.
Already, Leave campaigners have been exposed for making promises that they cannot deliver on.
Soon the Remain campaign will similarly be exposed for making baseless predictions that the UK economy will crumble without open EU immigration.
- Immigration is unlikely to fall significantly
The votes had barely been counted when Leave campaigner Nigel Evans told BBC Radio 5 that there had been “some misunderstanding” about immigration implications after Brexit.
Mr Evans admitted that migration numbers would not fall significantly and may even increase but emphasised that new policies would give Britain greater control over those who are given permission to work in the country.
“Under the new Australian points system that we will get in place we will be able to control the amount of immigration,” Mr Evans said.
Not every UK politician believes in the ‘Australian points system’ suggested by Mr Evans.
If such a system were put in place, however, Mr Evans suggests that UK would welcome a large number of immigrants from around the world with skills and qualifications that correspond with UK labour shortages.
- The NHS and other industries reliant on EU workers are unlikely to suffer after Brexit
Before the referendum, Remain campaigners argued that hospitals and other essential services could not recruit sufficient staff after Brexit.
Voters were told that one in five NHS workers were from outside the UK and that the NHS could not function without access to EU staff.
If the Australian points-based system proposed by Mr Evans and other Leave campaigners eventuates, the new visa system will attract skilled and in-demand workers from around the world.
Previously, because of the high numbers of EU citizens coming to the UK, the Government placed tight restrictions on skilled-worker visas for applicants outside the EU.
As an example, the NHS has struggled to recruit to address the nursing shortage but has been unable to employ willing and qualified staff from outside the EU.
According to a recent report released by the Migration Advisory Committee, 2,700 visa applicants from nurses outside the EEA have been refused because the total permissible number of non-EEA Tier 2 Visas for the period had already been reached.
If, in place of a free movement agreement with the EU, a global points-based system was in place, industries facing significant employment difficulties would likely benefit rather than suffer.
In the past, when UK immigration policy was under less pressure, the now-defunct Tier 3 Visa system permitted low-skilled immigrant workers to obtain visas to work in certain industries with labour shortages.
A similar system could again be developed to ultimately benefit UK industries with recruiting difficulties.
- There may be no change to immigration policy at all
Some legal experts believe Parliament may veto the referendum decision and elect to remain in the EU in spite of the people’s majority vote to leave.
Others have predicted that, while Article 50 may be invoked, the UK is likely to retain the single market and renegotiate to become part of the European Economic Area (EEA).
As a condition of membership, all countries in the EEA are required to agree to the free movement of workers. This would mean that the UK’s immigration policy remains unchanged.
Daniel Hannan, a Tory Leave campaigner and Member of the European Parliament, is an advocate for this position.
After the referendum, Mr Hannan told BBC’s Newsnight that if the UK wanted to remain in the European common market it would have to accept the free movement of people.
“Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed,” Mr Hannan said.
- Immigration is likely to increase before it decreases
After Brexit, former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas predicted an immediate influx of approximately 500,000 Eastern European workers.
“Every time the UK Government announces a cap on immigration, thousands rush in before the deadline,” Mr Woolas said.
Until Brexit negotiations with the EU have been finalised (a process expected to take two years) EU citizens will likely enjoy unlimited free access to the UK.
Given the uncertainty of the future, any steps that companies and EU workers can take to mitigate risk and secure the rights of their workers under existing legislation is advisable.
To discuss the impact that Brexit may have on your EU workforce and the steps you may be able to take to protect your employees, contact one of our team.