It’s probably the most inflammatory issue at the heart of the Brexit debate – so no wonder it's one of the most Googled questions on it all. Immigration is an issue that really hits home for people – whether they’re Remainers or Leavers, immigrants or Brits.
A third of Leave voters said immigration was why they chose Brexit over Bremain – and now it’s up to the government to figure out what to do with all the immigrants here already, and all the Brits abroad.
Here’s a quickfire breakdown of what we know so far, any clues we’ve got on how things might look post-Brexit, and what economists make of the whole shebang.
How many people are we talking about?
At the moment 3 million EU nationals live in the UK. That’s about one in every seven workers, 60,000 of whom are employed in the NHS. The UK is much stricter with the limits it sets on non-EU migrants than EU migrants at the moment, refusing entry to most people whose work they’d classify as ‘low-skilled’. If those rules had been set for the EU migrants in the UK already, ¾ of them wouldn’t have been let in.
But that doesn’t mean the people from the EU in the UK right now aren’t contributing to the public purse. “The evidence shows that in the past 15 years, immigrants – and EU immigrants in particular – pay more to the state in taxes than they take in public services,” an economist at UCL said to CNN in a recent interview. “Immigrants make less use of health services, have lower rates of crime and usually come already educated.”
And what’s the latest from the government on what’s going to happen to them?
If you’re an EU migrant in the UK, you can sign up for (very long) emails that keep you posted on whatever the latest goss in government is on your post-Brexit rights. The last one pretty much broke down to:
If you've been here for five years at the point the UK leaves the EU (sometime in 2019), you can stay. If you've not reached the five year mark yet, you can stay until you do.
Your healthcare, pension, and benefits will stay the same as they are.
If you happen to be abroad when Brexit happens, your rights are protected too. Close relatives of EU residents in the UK can stay if they arrive before the Brexit cut off date, which will be sometime in 2019.
It’s going to cost you around 65 pounds to get a residency document (which will generate a sweet £195 million for the government. Get in loser, we’re going shopping). You’ll have two years to get the application in (but don’t all wait til the last minute now or we’ll have some really late nights processing them all.)
Anyone who moves to the UK after the referendum but before the cut-off point will have blanket permission to stay for up to two years.
If someone's immigration status is in question and UK courts are having trouble making a call on it, the European Court of Justice can still get involved for eight years.
Just like Europeans in the UK though, it’s still pretty unclear what will happen for Brits wanting to move abroad in future. Stay tuned – we’ll update this piece as more info comes out.
Okay, so once these people are all sorted out, what kind of system are we going to have going forward?
Again, not too sure yet (sorry). Some Leavers want a ‘points’ based system like Australia, where migrants are let in based on their score in areas like English proficiency, work experience, what industry they’re in, and what qualifications they have. The idea is that you’re only letting in migrants for the industries you need workers in, and not people who’ll be competing with Brits for work.
But that’s by no means set in stone, and a lot of people would have issues with a system like Australia’s. For one, the ‘mathematical equation’ for which industries need workers and which don’t isn’t as easy to calculate as it sounds, not least because the economy changes all the time with new technologies and trends. Secondly, some feel a system like this clashes with their values – how do you decide who’s ‘worth’ having, and who isn’t?
The government is really keen to get us to 100,000 ‘net’ migrants, right? Why that many?
The figure seems nice because it’s round and easy to remember but it does seem somewhat plucked out of nowhere. Even the Secretary of Work and Pensions said it was a mistake to set. A considerable amount of voters clearly want immigration down, so it obviously makes sense for governments to listen to that – but any target figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.
In terms of how they’d ever get to those figures, the UK said last year they want to cap the number of low-skilled EU migrants, either by setting a salary threshold, doing an assessment of their skills or just setting a quota full stop. Migrants would have to prove they have a job offer before the come in, and companies would get random checks etc. This is all still speculative though – we weren’t actually supposed to see the paper that said it...