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What the Brexit White Paper says about immigration


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Two years after the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the government has published a White Paper describing what it wants from the future relationship between the UK and EU. The 100-page document includes some references to the future of immigration from the EU, but only in certain, limited areas.

Overall, the government does not have a policy on what will replace free movement of people. That is to be the job of a separate White Paper and an Immigration Bill, which “will bring EU migration under UK law, enabling the UK to set out its future immigration system in domestic legislation… further details of the UK’s future immigration system will be set out in due course”. I have written about the latest signs on what that system might look like in this post.

In the meantime, set out in full below are the various aspects of the White Paper that do touch on immigration and asylum. Perhaps more significant than any of those passages is the promise that “the UK is committed to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights” and “will remain a party to the ECHR after it has left the EU”.

A principled Brexit means… addressing specific concerns voiced in the referendum by ending free movement and putting in place a new immigration system.

1.4 Framework for mobility

72. EU citizens are integral to communities across the UK, with 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK. Approximately 800,000 UK nationals play an equally important role in communities across the EU. The UK and the EU have already reached an agreement on citizens’ rights which provides EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU before the end of the implementation period with certainty about their rights going forward. Individuals will continue to be able to move, live and work on the same basis as now up until the end of December 2020.

1.4.1 Ending free movement of people

73. In future it will be for the UK Government and Parliament to determine the domestic immigration rules that will apply. Free movement of people will end as the UK leaves the EU. The Immigration Bill will bring EU migration under UK law, enabling the UK to set out its future immigration system in domestic legislation.

74. The UK will design a system that works for all parts of the UK. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report, due in September 2018, will provide important evidence on patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy to inform this. Further details of the UK’s future immigration system will be set out in due course.

75. The UK will continue to be an open and tolerant nation, and will want to continue to attract the brightest and best, from the EU and elsewhere. The UK’s future immigration arrangements will set out how those from the EU and elsewhere can apply to come and work in the UK. This will be crucial to supporting its public services, as well as enhancing the UK’s attractiveness for research, development and innovation.

1.4.2 Future mobility arrangements

76. Any future mobility arrangements will be consistent with the ending of free movement, respecting the UK’s control of its borders and the Government’s objective to control and reduce net migration. Trade agreements which cover trade in services include provisions on the mobility of people for the provision of services (known as ‘Mode 4’ commitments). Given the depth of the relationship and close ties between the peoples of the UK and the EU, the UK will make a sovereign choice in a defined number of areas to seek reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU, building on current WTO GATS commitments. The UK has already proposed that this should be achieved in an appropriate framework for mobility, in line with arrangements that the UK might want to offer to other close trading partners in the future, where they support new and deep trade deals. The UK’s future economic partnership should therefore provide reciprocal arrangements, consistent with the ending of free movement, that:

  1. support businesses to provide services and to move their talented people;
  2. allow citizens to travel freely, without a visa, for tourism and temporary business activity;
  3. facilitate mobility for students and young people, enabling them to continue to benefit from world leading universities and the cultural experiences the UK and the EU have to offer;
  4. are as streamlined as possible to ensure smooth passage for legitimate travel while strengthening the security of the UK’s borders; and
  5. provide for other defined mobility provisions, including arrangements to ensure that UK citizens living in the EU, in future, continue to benefit from their pension entitlements and associated healthcare.

77. These proposals are without prejudice to the Common Travel Area (CTA) arrangements between the UK and Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies. The CTA means that Irish citizens will continue to enjoy a special status in the UK, provided for by domestic legislation, distinct from the status of other EU nationals.

78. The principle of non-discrimination between existing Member States should apply to all of the provisions agreed as part of the framework for mobility.

Business and services

79. UK firms and global investors rely on the ability to move and attract talent to support global operations, and to send people to provide services across Europe. Indeed, mobility is a key element of economic, cultural and scientific cooperation, ensuring professional service providers can reach clients, advanced manufacturers can deploy key personnel to the right place, and scientists can collaborate on world-leading projects.

80. The UK would seek reciprocal arrangements that would allow UK nationals to visit the EU without a visa for short-term business reasons and equivalent arrangements for EU citizens coming to the UK. This would permit only paid work in limited and clearly defined circumstances, in line with the current business visa policy.

81. As is the case with non-EU countries with whom the UK has a trading agreement, the UK also wants to agree reciprocal provisions on intra-corporate transfers that allow UK and EU-based companies to train staff, move them between offices and plants and to deploy expertise where it is needed, based on existing arrangements with non-EU countries. The UK will also discuss how to facilitate temporary mobility of scientists and researchers, self-employed professionals, employees providing services, as well as investors.


82. In the year ending September 2017, UK residents made approximately 50 million non-business related visits to the EU spending £24 billion, and EU residents made over 20 million non-business related visits to the UK spending £7.8 billion.

83. The UK therefore proposes reciprocal visa-free travel arrangements to enable UK and EU citizens to continue to travel freely for tourism in the future, maintaining the close links between the people of the UK and the EU. 84. The Government wants UK and EU nationals to continue to be able to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive healthcare should they need it while on holiday.

Students and young people

85. The UK and the EU should continue to give young people and students the chance to benefit from each other’s world leading universities, including cultural exchanges such as Erasmus+.

86. The UK proposes a UK-EU youth mobility scheme to ensure that young people can continue to enjoy the social, cultural and educational benefits of living in each other’s countries. The UK already operates a number of youth mobility schemes with other global partners, for example with Australia and Canada, on which this could be modelled.

Streamlined border arrangements and administrative procedures

87. The UK already has existing arrangements with low-risk, non-EU countries that enable smooth access at the border, such as the Registered Traveller Scheme in place with a number of countries like the US and Japan. The UK wants to agree reciprocal arrangements with the EU that ensure smooth passage for UK nationals when they travel to the EU, for example on business or on holiday. The UK will strengthen the security of its borders, which should include exploring whether to apply the electronic travel authorities proposed for third country nationals to each other’s nationals, and ensuring travel documents meet minimum security standards. But at the border, as now, tourists and business visitors should not routinely have to face questions about the purpose of their visit. The UK also wants to minimise administrative burdens for those seeking permission to travel, enter or reside in each other’s territories, including short, simple and user-friendly application processes.

88. Streamlined arrangements are particularly important at the Gibraltar-Spain border, which is crossed every day by thousands of people from other Member States.

Other mobility provisions

89. While ending free movement, the UK will also make a sovereign choice to discuss other specific mobility areas. The UK will seek reciprocal arrangements on the future rules around some defined elements of social security coordination. This will be important for UK nationals who want to live, work or retire in the EU in the future, as part of our new arrangements. This could cover provisions for the uprating of state pensions, including export rules and accompanying aggregation principles for people who have contributed into multiple countries’ systems. It would also ensure workers only pay social security contributions in one state at a time. There should be reciprocal healthcare cover for state pensioners retiring to the EU or the UK, continued participation in the EHIC scheme and cooperation on planned medical treatment. This would be supported by any necessary administrative cooperation and data-sharing requirements.

90. The UK will also seek to secure onward movement opportunities for UK nationals in the EU who are covered by the citizens’ rights agreement. Some of these UK nationals have chosen to make their lives in the EU, and this should be respected in the opportunities available to them if they decide to change their Member State of residence.

91. The framework for mobility could also cover the recognition of professional qualifications held by UK and EU nationals as covered in section 1.3 of this chapter.

2.5.1 Asylum and illegal migration

98. Properly managed migration brings benefits to local communities and economies. But high levels of illegal migration present a global challenge, enabling organised crime, people trafficking and modern slavery to prosper.

99. The UK has a significant presence overseas, conducting capacity and capability building in source and transit countries and deconstructing criminal business models, through participation in development programmes and through seconded national experts. It is vital that the UK and the EU establish a new, strategic relationship to address the global challenges of asylum and illegal migration.

100. The UK therefore proposes a comprehensive, ‘whole of route’ approach that includes interventions at every stage of the migrant journey and ensure no new incentives are created to make dangerous journeys to Europe. It should cover:

  1. ongoing operational cooperation, for example working with Frontex to strengthen the EU’s external border, and Europol to combat organised immigration crime;
  2. a new legal framework to return illegal migrants and asylum-seekers to a country they have travelled through, or have a connection with, in order to have their protection claim considered, where necessary. People should be prevented from making claims in more than one country, and on multiple occasions. A clear legal structure, facilitated by access to Eurodac (the biometric and fingerprint database used for evidencing secondary asylum claims) or an equivalent system will help achieve this;
  3. new arrangements that enable unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU to join close family members in the UK, where it is in their best interests and vice versa;
  4. a continued strategic partnership to address the drivers of illegal migration by investing and building cooperation in source and transit countries;
  5. continued UK participation in international dialogues with European and African partners, frameworks, and processes, such as the Rabat and Khartoum Processes, to tackle illegal migration upstream; and
  6. the option to align and work together on potential future funding instruments through the cooperative accord on overseas development assistance and international action outlined in chapter 3.4.

All this is separate from the “divorce” discussions on unravelling the existing EU-UK relationship. A draft Withdrawal Agreement with a fully agreed section on the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK is discussed on Free Movement here.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.