The Economist is running a series of articles on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on everything from trade to the economy, cars to universities, the island of Ireland to retailing. This piece looks at immigration.
IMMIGRATION WAS one of the most emotive, most contentious issues of the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. Theresa May, the prime minister, interpreted the Leave vote primarily as a protest against the free movement of EU citizens—a fundamental principle of the bloc—and since then has repeatedly promised to end it.
If Britain leaves the EU on March 29th under the terms of the withdrawal agreement struck between Mrs May and other EU leaders, free movement would continue until January 2021. Europeans who come to live or work in Britain during that period would get the same rights as those already in the country. If Britain leaves without a deal, the situation is rather less clear.
In theory, the government could end free movement immediately, but ministers have made it clear that even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal there would still be a transition period during which EU citizens could freely enter the country. That is because there would simply not be enough time before March 29th to recruit extra border guards and set up a visa system for European workers. Without such a system, employers would have no way of differentiating between an EU citizen who arrived before April 2019, and therefore would have the right to work, and one who arrived after the cut-off date.
Without a deal, new arrivals wishing to stay longer than three months would have to apply for permission. If granted, they could stay for three years. Some would probably be able to extend their stay, but ministers have not yet clarified how that process would work.
Deal or not, the 3.7m-odd EU citizens already living in Britain will have the right to remain, although they will have to sign up to a government database to show when they arrived in the country. A no-deal Brexit would leave them with fewer rights, though. For example, under the terms of the draft agreement EU citizens who have committed minor crimes are more likely than non-EU immigrants to be allowed to remain in Britain. Without a deal, Britain would apply the more stringent rules it uses when deporting criminals from elsewhere.
The government says that tourists or businesspeople visiting from the EU for less than three months will not need to apply for visas, even if there is a no-deal Brexit. Tougher rules would cause too much economic damage and the visa system would be unable to cope with the likely surge in demand.
Britons abroad could face a harder time. The draft withdrawal deal allows them to continue living in an EU country so long as they arrive before 2021. But without a deal, Britons’ rights to free movement in Europe would end immediately. Even those already living on the continent might need to apply for work permits. Christine Sullivan of Fragomen, an immigration-law firm, says this could create a “nightmare scenario” in which multinational firms employing British workers must work out “overnight” whether their employees require permits in each of the member states, because not all of the countries have clarified their proposals. “Maybe it’s “yes” in Germany, maybe it’s “no” in the Netherlands.” Many EU countries plan to allow expats to keep some of their rights, but each country has different proposals.
See more Brexit briefs:
What would a no-deal Brexit mean for trade?
What would a no-deal Brexit mean for the island of Ireland?
What would a no-deal Brexit mean for the economy?
What would a no-deal Brexit mean for retailing?
What would a no-deal Brexit mean for the automotive industry?