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UK Immigration Laws In Brief

UK immigration laws determine who can enter the UK, who can stay and what they are permitted to do while they are here. This body of law is vast, disparate, complex and subject to frequent change. Since 201o, more than 5,700 changes have been made to UK immigration rules according to the Guardian.

Current UK Immigration Laws

The current body of law comprises the Immigration Rules, extensive case law as well as primary legislation:

  • Immigration Act 2016 Introduced substantial changes in illegal migration rules and punitive measures for those in breach
  • Immigration Act 2014
  • Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009
  • Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
  • Tribunals, Courts and enforcement Act 2007
  • UK Borders Act 2007
  • Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 Introduced the five-tier points system for awarding entry visas with limited rights of appeal. The act also introduced fines against employers for each illegal employee.
  • Asylum and Immigration (etc) Act 2004 Introduced the current, single form of appeal.
  • Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 The first English test and citizenship exam for immigrants.
  • Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997
  • Asylum and Immigration Act 1993 It became a criminal offence to employ anyone unless they had permission to live and work in the UK.
  • Immigration Act 1988 Ensured people with freedom of movement in the European Community did not need leave to enter or remain in the UK.
  • British Nationality Act 1981 The law on the acquisition of British nationality by birth, adoption, descent, registration and naturalisation.
  • Immigration Act 1971 Currently this is the primary statute dealing with rules on migration. Commonwealth citizens lost their automatic right to remain in the UK, meaning they faced the same restrictions as those from elsewhere.
  • Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968
  • British Nationality Act 1948
  • British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914
  • Aliens Act 1905

The net effect is that it is increasingly difficult for applicants to understand the rules and their options,  and to then navigate the system. But against this backdrop, life goes on – people move, marry, migrate. Companies need migrant workers, since the UK labour market continues to suffer shortages across sectors and skills.

And yet, rather than offering UK plc a framework in which to access much-needed talent for wider economic benefit, the UK immigration rules in their present form fail in many ways to support UK employers in meeting recruitment and talent needs.

UK Immigration Laws – the current position 

The current UK system operates along two strands, with EU nationals and their dependants subject to different rules than non-EEA citizens.

EU citizens 

For nationals of EEA member states, entry into the UK is governed under EU law, specifically  Treaties and directives and regulations that put the rules into force. They enjoy free movement across the EU zone, including the UK, as well as the right to work without having to seek prior permission.

Non-EEA nationals 

Nationals of non-EEA countries are subject to immigration control. To gain entry into the UK, they must first have been granted leave to enter or remain under the relevant provisions of the UK Immigration Rules. The points-based visa system (PBS) is used to assess applicant eligibility under defined routes.

The PBS however is considered to be rigid and demanding (both time, effort and cost) on both employers and migrant workers, but unavoidable where the domestic labour market is unable to satisfy demand for workers.

Companies also operate under strict prevention of illegal working duties, to check and verify the lawful status of all employees to be in and to work in the UK or face severe Home Office penalties. In effect, employers are by law required to act as frontline immigration enforcement.

Post-Brexit Immigration Reform 

The UK government published a White Paper at the end of 2018 outlining its plans to reform UK immigration.

Largely based on recommendations in the MAC’s EU migration report, the government has advised it intends to proceed with a number of fundamental changes to the system which will:

  • Remove preference based on nationality – as EU free movement ends.
  • Focus eligibility on skills-based criteria

Additional initiatives are also being explored to address specific migration issues, such as a short term route for low-skilled workers to address concerns about shortages in unskilled labour.

The new system is expected to take effect from January 2021.

The most significant development to date is of course the introduction of EU settled status. EEA nationals now have until December 2020 to apply for Settled Status to retain their lawful status in the UK.

Do you have a question about the UK immigration laws?

DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK immigration. We are a team of immigration solicitors and legal experts dedicated to UK immigration law. We work with businesses and individuals to help understand their immigration options and support with making any necessary applications to the Home Office. Contact us for advice on  your UK immigration matter.

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