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Brexit: Control on EU migration

Brexit: Control on EU migration

The UK government is yet to confirm how, and the extent to which, it will control EU migration upon leaving the EU but EEA nationals are likely to face restrictions when working in UK and accessing social benefits.


Director, KPMG Law

KPMG in the UK


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Brexit: Control on EU migration

While the UK government prepares to negotiate the terms of its exit from the European Union (EU) it has made clear it intends to control the migration of EU nationals to the UK.

The current laws on European free movement give nationals in the European Economic Area (EEA) and their family the right to enter and reside in the UK as workers, job-seekers, self-employed persons, self-sufficient persons and as students. Like UK citizens and settled persons, EEA nationals have automatic access to the UK labour market. In addition, they have the right to be treated in the same way a British person is treated in relation to social benefits.

Consequently, the construction and healthcare sectors have benefited from the skills of the EU labour force while some EEA nationals in the UK have benefitted from social housing.


Why does this matter?
Brexit is likely to mean EEA nationals will face restrictions when working in the UK and accessing social benefits. This will have two consequences in the housing sector. First, EEA workers in the construction and adult social care sectors may require immigration permission in order to be able to continue to work or obtain employment in these sectors. This may reduce labour supply and increase costs in the housing sector.

Second, EEA nationals may have reduced access to social housing which would reduce demand for it.


Immigration Policy

An immigration category for the sponsorship of low skilled workers does not currently exist in the immigration rules. Tier 2 sponsorship, the category that allows immigration sponsorship of highly skilled roles in the UK, was already subject to an annual limited migration quota in 2015.

The UK government is yet to confirm how, and the extent to which, it will control EU migration upon leaving the EU. Legislative changes to EU migration would need to factor in:

  1. The present inability of UK employers to provide immigration sponsorship to lower skilled roles, particularly in construction and healthcare;
  2. The extent to which the annual quota on the UK migration of highly skilled workers will apply to EEA nationals while still keeping in effect the public policy of controlling net migration;
  3. The position of social housing tenants who do not acquire permanent residence in the UK by the date of the exit, yet are no longer entitled to social housing under the European free movement laws.


Considerations for the social housing sector

The UK government is expected to carefully determine its approach to control on EU migration and its impact. In the meantime, it would be worthwhile for the social housing sector to consider the likely impact on the current labour force. Also they should look at the future appetite of EU workers to seek employment in roles which are in shortage in the UK. Housing Associations may wish to consider the recruitment and cost implications of providing immigration sponsorship to current and prospective employees where permitted under the controls on EU migration, and what this will mean for the way they run their operations.

Associations may be able to provide input into policy development by looking at current tenant populations and those waiting for housing; and identifying the number of EEA nationals that make up these populations.

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