Blog "Caveat Lector"

60 Days After Brexit – What’s Changing and What Does It Mean for UK Immigration?

September 15, 2016

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We are thrilled to conclude our three-part series examining where the United Kingdom and the European Union stand 60 days after the historic Brexit vote.

Our first installment explored the different voter trends throughout the United Kingdom and took an in-depth look at the most significant regional discrepancies. The second installment reviewed the current political and economic climate within the EU following Brexit, as well as the next steps Parliament will need to take as they begin their exit from the EU.

This final installment provides a more in-depth look at the next steps the UK will need to take to exit the EU and the possible upcoming changes to the UK immigration system over the next several years.

What Will Change?

First, the UK will indeed invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin negotiating its exit deal with the EU. The timing of that action is still in question, but lawyers representing the government have informed the British High Court that no action will be taken before the end of 2016. However, Chairman of the Conservative Party, Patrick McLoughlin, has stated that Article 50 will definitely be invoked before the next general election, currently scheduled for May 2020.

Second, the negotiation of the UK’s exit will certainly take well beyond the two years set forth in the Lisbon Treaty. The negotiations involved in Greenland’s 1985 exit from the European Economic Community (EEC) – predecessor to the EU – took three years, and the scope and complexity of the relationships involved in the present EU and UK far surpass those. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has estimated that a negotiation as complex as the UK separating from the EU would take at least six years.

Third, the UK will successfully negotiate at least some agreements between themselves and the EU during the exit phase, most likely focusing on immigration and trade. The UK will then exit the EU and continue to negotiate with member nations independently on other subjects. In theory, when the dust settles, the UK hopes to find itself in a more favorable position than its current EU membership - or at least in a position more palatable to Brexit voters.

What Does It All Mean for UK Immigration?

The current UK immigration system for non-EU nationals consists of a five-tiered points-based system. Tiers are based on occupation, and points are awarded based on professional ability, experience, and age.

Temporary work and residence authorization are then granted to successful applicants, who can later apply for UK’s form of permanent residence. In some cases, employers are required to conduct labor market studies to justify the hiring a foreign worker over a local UK worker. The idea is to balance the desire of individuals to come to the UK with the needs of UK employers and local labor.

However, as an EU member the UK cannot subject EU nationals to the same immigration system as non-EU nationals, who may live and work in the UK without additional authorization. With the primary reason for Brexit being the perceived flood of EU immigrants taking jobs needed by local workers and competing for limited public resources, the UK’s exit negotiations with the EU and any resulting agreements are certainly going to be aimed at significantly reducing immigration of EU nationals into the UK. However, whether those levels will ultimately turn out to be significantly lower than at present remains to be seen.

Theoretically, once the UK officially exits, EU nationals would fall under the current points-based system absent an agreement otherwise. But until exit, the UK remains subject to the current EU rules. Further, the UK and many EU countries have already verbally committed to “grandfathering” the nearly 3 million EU nationals currently residing in the UK and the millions of UK nationals residing in the EU. Therefore, until an exit agreement is finalized, EU nationals will still enjoy open immigration into the UK and vice versa, and those EU nationals already residing in the UK can continue to do so.

Possible Changes to the Immigration System

Many experts are looking to Switzerland as a potential model for a future UK-EU relationship. Switzerland remains outside of the EU, but its economy, infrastructure, and immigration systems are strongly integrated with the Union. Its relationship is governed by ten EU treaties and another 200-plus treaties with individual European nations. Interestingly, however, Switzerland actually has net immigration levels proportionately four times higher than the UK. Whether the UK will somehow be more successful than the Swiss in negotiating a more limited immigration scheme, while still retaining the desired access to European trade, is anyone’s guess.

However, to complicate matters further, some in the Leave campaign for Brexit have been calling for a major overhaul of the UK immigration system to a version similar to Australia. The Australian system is split into two schemes, one for economic immigrants and one for humanitarian immigrants, with the economic immigrants (those coming for work) capped at pre-determined levels. Foreign work permit applicants then go two possible routes – one with an employer sponsor, and one without an employer sponsor and a points-based system. Sponsoring employers are then subject to various requirements to ensure the local economy and local workers benefit. Many immigration experts expect elements of this Australian system to eventually find their way into the UK system.

The Bottom Line . . .

The bottom line is that any major change in UK immigration law resulting from Brexit is at least four years away, and likely further. The politics in Britain will certainly dictate that its leaders move toward reduced levels of immigration during EU exit negotiations. However, at this point, trying to determine what a future UK immigration scheme may look like would be pointless. There are just too many economic and political issues still in play.

The field of immigration is always one of frequent change impacted by powerful shifts in politics and the economy. For the foreseeable future, the immigration picture in the United Kingdom remains unchanged despite the Brexit vote. Changes in the current system may be made from time to time as usual, but any major changes as a result of Brexit are a minimum of four to five years away - if any real change does occur. Long-term business decisions based on speculative changes would be unwise. However, what won’t change is that Pro-Link GLOBAL will be monitoring this challenging time in the UK and will continue to guide its clients with the best advice available as the tangible changes from Brexit come to light.

Looking for more Brexit details? Download our e-book below to access this entire series plus more in-depth Brexit information in one convenient resource.

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Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader

This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. We would like to remind you that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please reach out to your immigration specialist or your client relations manager at Pro-Link GLOBAL should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by your Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management team.

Information contained in this Global Brief is prepared using information obtained from various media outlets, government publications and our KGNM immigration professionals. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content posted or published by Pro-Link GLOBAL that extends beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Furthermore, responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing permission rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Interested parties are welcome to contact the Knowledge Management Department ( with any additional requests for information or to request reproduction of this material.