In less than three weeks’ time, on Thursday June the 23rd, all eligible UK residents and citizens are being asked to take part in a referendum to decide on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. But what would a vote to leave mean for the thousands of foreign nationals who come to the UK seeking employment each year?
Prominent Vote Leave campaigners, including the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Michael Gove recently issued a joint statement detailing a number of new requirements that could be put in place as soon as 2020, should Britain decide to exit the EU.
Similar to the Australian points system, people wishing to work in the UK would be required to accumulate a minimum number of points before being considered eligible to live and work in the country. Points would be scored for meeting a number of set criteria including the ability to speak English.
According to the statement, this would ensure that jobseekers applying to enter the UK for work are evaluated on the basis of their skills rather than their country of origin. Aspiring migrants would only be allowed to enter the UK if they have skills needed by the British economy.
According to figures released by Full Fact, more than 2 million EU nationals are currently in work in the UK at present, accounting for approximately 7% of the working population. The Vote Leave statement confirms that these existing EU workers would not be affected by any policy changes and in the event of a Brexit would be granted automatic Indefinite Leave to Remain. The changes, it said, would stop discrimination against those seeking entry for work or study on the grounds of nationality.
In actual fact Britain already has a partial immigration points system in place based upon skills and earning potential. However, European Union law stipulates that these rules cannot be applied to EU citizens. By contrast, under the proposed changes, applicants from within the EU and those from other countries outside of the Union would be evaluated in exactly the same way and aside from a requirement to speak fluent English, new working visa applicants could also be refused entry on the grounds of medical history, age or a lack of suitable qualifications.
Unsurprisingly, the opposing camp were unimpressed by the announcement and Will Straw, executive director of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign countered that the proposal could ruin the British economy if we ceased to be part of the Single Market would in fact take immigration figures up.
A study by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory last month discovered that up to 75% of EU migrants currently in the country would not be eligible to work in the UK if the new points test was applied to them.
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