Government warned to keep freedom of movement for years after Brexit

4 May 17

The government may need to extend the controversial free movement of people for several years after Brexit because a new immigration policy won’t be ready in time, a think-tank has said.

In a report out today the Institute for Government argued the current immigration system needs to be urgently reformed and warned an extra 5,000 civil servants may be needed to process immigration applications as Brexit approaches.

The study stated “successful implementation of a new immigration system by April 2019 is unfeasible – not just for government, but also employers, landlords and providers of public services”.

It urged the government to keep the current system until a replacement is ready and opting for an ‘implementation phase’, which would give public and private sector employers time to adapt.

Jill Rutter, Brexit programme director at the IfG, said: “The political imperative for change in immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge.

“The scale of the task – creating a new immigration system – is huge and it is critical that government gets it right.”

She added the current process for dealing with permanent residence applications from EU nationals is “not fit for purpose”.

“It needs to be streamline as a matter of urgency and as a first step towards a new post-Brexit system,” she stated.  

Today’s report warned it was because of this residency system that an extra 5,000 civil servants would be needed to process applications and deal with the large number of appeals over the next two years.  

Joe Owen, the IfG researcher behind the report, said: “Brexit is an opportunity to design an immigration system that is more effective for the country and less burdensome for employers.

“It’s important that the government avoids making multiple changes and introducing unnecessary disruption and confusion. To provide stability, we should continue with the existing migration system until the new one is ready.” 

There are an estimated 3m EU nationals already resident in the UK, and 1m UK citizens living in the EU, the IfG said.

EU nationals make up around 10% of the workforce in some industries, the report stated.

Critics of a so-called hard Brexit have warned that failure to secure the rights of EU nationals working or wanting to work in the UK could damage public services, which rely on EU workers. 

Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said the Tories have “no plan” and the report shows their vision is “unrealistic and potentially disastrous”.

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