Why Boris's Australian points plan will change immigration lawyer target markets
By Charlie Britten
04 Aug 2019
The arrival of Boris Johnson in Downing Street may seem to be all about Brexit, but immigration lawyers will be watching to see how his policy in this area develops once Britain is outside the EU.
Few doubted that Boris Johnson would win the race to secure the Conservative Party leadership and thus replace Theresa May as prime minister. Central to his appeal was his pledge to ensure there would be no more delays in delivering Brexit and that the UK will leave on October 31st, "no ifs or buts”.
That approach has pleased those prepared to leave on a ‘no-deal’ basis, which, assuming the EU sticks by its pledge not to return to negotiate a new deal, would mean the agreements struck by Mrs May over the rights of EU citizens in the UK won’t apply.
Immigration lawyers will be watching closely to see just what does transpire once the UK is out of the EU and can devise its own policy in this area. The decisions made in Westminster may have far-reaching implications, not least in determining the kinds of target markets that are likely to be largest.
What issues may there be for EU citizens?
It would appear unlikely that there will be many problems for citizens of the remaining 27 EU states who already live and work in the UK. They should be able to go on doing so, because only a favourable policy towards them would elicit reciprocal generosity from the EU. Indeed, while a new agreement will need to be worked out after Brexit, the mutual benefits of a quid pro quo should minimise the problems that might be faced by existing ex-pats.
However, future immigration is another matter. While those who voted to leave the EU did so for a range of reasons, immigration was certainly one of them and it is not an issue Mr Johnson or any other politician can easily ignore.
Why will the buyer persona of the average immigration law client change?
The new prime minister’s preferred policy - mentioned in the Queen's Speech - is an Australian style points system. This would not just mean that while no preference is given to anyone from the EU; the rationale is it would be used to base immigration policy on the skills each prospective entrant could offer. The more desirable the skills, the more points an applicant will have and therefore the greater chance of being allowed in.
While the overall level of immigration may be lower - though not necessarily tied to specific targets as favoured by Mrs May - this may appear to be a fair and meritocratic system.
However, if it is designed to reduce immigration, that will be in contrast with the way it has been used to increase immigration in Australia, now an increasingly multi-ethnic nation. Such a policy is bound to be controversial, with its critics including Mr Johnson’s successor as London mayor Sadiq Khan.
This difference may be significant, as it would mean higher points thresholds in the UK case. Depending how the legislation is drawn up and implemented, there may be plenty of room for disputes and appeals. If so, immigration lawyers may be particularly busy.
Which nations provide the most immigrants may depend on a range of circumstances. Just as the accession of eastern European countries to the EU produced significant 21st century migration, so Britain’s economic needs in earlier decades brought the Windrush generation from the old empire. In future, the distribution of nationalities may be more diverse. It will be important for those concerned with the law to be aware of this.
Mr Johnson has said immigrants should be able to speak English, which may give a bias towards countries like Australia or the US. A potential issue may be just what standard of English is required.
Australia’s immigration policies are not just about points. Allied to it are issues concerning refugees, with opinions deeply divided over the contentious policy of detaining asylum seekers on Christmas Island.
Ultimately, the capacity of the UK government to formulate its own immigration policy once it no longer has EU laws to comply with creates great potential for change - and therefore controversy. When new legislation does come before parliament, it will be important for the legal sector to begin its preparations for the new circumstances and client base they may have to deal with.
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