Since officially leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, the UK has been navigating an 11-month transition period negotiated by Theresa May and later Boris Johnson. During the transition period, EU law still applies in the UK, even though the UK is no longer formally a member of the EU.
That transition period is set to end on 31 December 2020. On that day, various important changes happen automatically, because from 1 January 2021, EU law will no longer be directly applicable in the UK. For immigration purposes, the most widely discussed change following from that will be that on the 1st of January, free movement of people ends, and the rebranded points-based immigration system is coming into full force to replace it. Obviously, the end of free movement is a big deal. There will, however, be numerous other significant changes to migration as a consequence of Brexit. One such area is asylum.
Asylum regulation is based on a number of international, EU and domestic laws. The relevant international law is set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The applicability of those texts will not be affected by Brexit, the end of the transition period, or any other event to do with the EU, as their legal basis is not in EU law. Despite the ECHR’s name, it is not an EU treaty, and the Strasbourg human rights court is not an EU body – so these laws will continue to apply.
EU law, however, is a different story. Due to the Common European Asylum System, the end of the transition period will heavily affect individuals claiming asylum in the UK, as the EU law relevant to asylum will no longer be automatically applicable in the UK. Some of it will be repealed immediately and replaced by domestic law, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s infamous Immigration Bill implementing the points-based system and end of free movement in practice. Another piece of legislation set to be repealed is the Dublin III Regulation. The purpose of the Dublin Regulation is to determine which State is responsible for examining an asylum application. The legislation is marked down for immediate repeal because it is meaningless without cooperation of other EU member states.
In very simple terms, the Dublin Regulation allows the UK to return asylum seekers to another EU country if they passed their on their way to the UK. In less simple terms, Dublin III sets out mechanisms determine which country should assume responsibility of asylum seekers within their borders, and to return them to those responsible countries. The Regulation is intended to ensure quick access to asylum procedures and reduce double handling of asylum claims by different States.
Important to note is that Dublin III does not allow for the UK or any member state to return asylum seekers to their country of origin, or outside of the EU. It applies to asylum seekers within the bloc, and determines which member state is responsible for processing their claim. The Dublin III Regulation utilises a host of criteria to determine where an asylum seeker should claim asylum, ranging from family unity, to possession of residence documents or visas and irregular entry or stay. The latter has become something of a hot topic in recent months, as reports of migrants crossing the channel in small boats from France have risen, and inflammatory remarks from the government has led to much commotion. At some point, Home Secretary Patel stated she wanted the British navy to patrol the seas in order to send illegal channel crossers back to France. This idea was quickly dismissed, as it turned out that it would only be legal under international law if the country whose waters the migrants would be sent back to (in this case France) agreed to the return, but the narrative presented has remained the same.
Ms. Patel has frequently justified returning channel crossers to France on the idea that their asylum claims in the UK are “illegal” because they arrived in France first, and then entered the UK illegally. This is not exactly true. There are limits, legally, to the extent irregular entry can be used as a reason for transfer back to the first point of entry. For example, the principle can be outweighed by other primary considerations such as family unity. Additionally, a Member State will be responsible for a claim submitted by a person who has been living there for at least five consecutive months, even when that person first gained entry into the EU by an irregular crossing of a border in another Member State. So, if an asylum seeker entered the UK via France, but has been in the UK for over five months since, they cannot be returned to France and the UK will automatically assume responsibility.
In 2019, statistics indicate that 714 individuals were transferred into the UK based on Dublin III rules, and 263 were transferred out to another EU country. Numbers have been steadily rising since the Brexit referendum, indicating a push to complete as many Dublin III transfers as possible before the Regulation stops to apply.
The government has given no indication that it plans on introducing a post-Brexit successor to the Dublin Regulation. Instead, it has proposed two draft agreements with the EU which relate to certain specific aspects of the Dublin Regulation. On the one hand, the government is looking to come to an agreement on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children for family reunion purposes, and on the other, it has proposed a readmission agreement for accepting returns of irregularly residing UK/EU citizens and third country nationals. Both of these proposals are much narrower than the Dublin Regulation allowed for.
None of these proposals have been accepted by the EU, and the Government has said that it might pursue bilateral agreements with individual Member States if it cannot secure EU-wide agreements. It is unclear whether these individual agreements would be compatible with the EU’s exclusive competence/power over migration policy, and so whether they will be possible at all. The end of Dublin III hence leaves a gap in UK immigration law that is unlikely to be filled before the ever-approaching end of the transition period.
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On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the European Council of its intention to leave the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. After almost three years of delay, powerplay and disarray, the day has finally come. Yesterday, the European Parliament officially approved the Withdrawal Agreement. Emotional but sober images of Remain MEPs singing Auld Lang Syne as MEPs signed the Agreement. At 23:00 tonight the British Union flag will be removed from the European institutions in Brussels, and the EU flag lowered from City Hall in London. The UK will officially no longer be a part of the European Union. In anticipation of this, steps have been taken to prepare the country for a complete upheaval of the legal and political framework in the UK.
In an act of defiance, the Scottish government narrowly won a vote to keep the EU flag flying over the Edinburgh parliament building after Brexit. Because, as Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, stated, “at times of uncertainty and disruption, symbols matter.”
And symbols do matter. They do not, however, define what will happen to EU citizens living in the UK in practice – not in the short term. What will change, here and now, for EU citizens coming to the UK and the other way around? Obviously, a lot. Today the government published a Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules, officialising the first immediate change in the law of the UK in practice.
It introduces a new visa category called “Global Talent.” This will replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. The Global Talent visa is branded as a new type of visa for talented and promising individuals in the fields of science, digital technology, arts and culture wanting to work and research in the UK.
The process to receive this visa is not dissimilar from the old Exceptional Talent route: Global Talent applicants must hold an endorsement from an organisation engaged by the Home office to develop sector-specific criteria, just like before. The main difference is that the new Global Talent category will not be subject to a cap on the number of applicants, whereas the ole Exceptional Talent category was capped at 2000 places per year. The removal of the cap is supposed to ensure that migrants who can meet the qualifying criteria will be able to secure entry to the UK. Applicants will be able to choose how much leave, in whole years, up to a maximum of 5 years they wish to be granted in a single application, and pay their immigration health surcharge accordingly.
The new category will take effect on 20 February 2020 – real and tangible changes to many other areas of the law will follow until the end of the transition period in June 2021. Incremental change as well as major overhauls will transform the UK after Brexit, including Scotland, and no flag waving above Holyrood will change that.
Earlier this month, it was reported that EU citizens face a “teachers tax” of £4,345 over 5 years if they want to come teach in the UK after Brexit. Although not factually incorrect, this statement does not reflect the law – or the reality – of teachers working in the UK.
There is no such thing as a “teachers’ tax.” There is simply an immigration system already in place which in consequence of the Brexit vote will apply to anyone who does not fall under the umbrella of exemptions to that system. In other words, after Brexit, EU citizens will fall under the same immigration regime as third party (non-EU) nationals. Curbing immigration by ending free movement in this way was one of the Leave-campaign’s main selling points, and largely how they won the 2016 referendum.
Effectively, the end of free movement means that everyone, including EU nationals, will need to apply for a visa if they want to enter and live in the UK post-Brexit. The Johnson government has drawn up a plan of what this would look like. Needless to say, under this plan, getting a visa costs money. The Tier 2 visa, which is the working visa for which teachers would have to apply if the rules stay as they are now, costs £1220 if it is a permit for longer than 3 years. In addition to that, the government has stated that any non-British nationals will be liable to pay a yearly NHS immigration surcharge, which all non-EU migrants already pay today. The price of the immigration surcharge is set to go up to £800 a year. If you add up 5 years’ worth of immigration surcharge with the visa fees, it will cost at least £4,345 to live and work in the UK for five years after Brexit, explaining the figure that The Independent alludes to.
Some groups of special workers will have different requirements. The main group of workers with guaranteed special status is NHS workers. The Tory manifesto promises to alleviate the burden of immigration for EU workers with NHS job offers by offering cheaper visa fees and fast-track entry. It is their attempt to ensure that the NHS survives Brexit, labour shortages are filled and employment targets met. It is not unimaginable that if the government recognises a labour shortage and reliance on Europe for the NHS, it may do so for other fields and professions as well.
In short, unless the government implements a special exemption for teachers, which may be a good idea considering the labour shortage in the teaching profession, then yes, they too, like any non-British nationals in the UK, will have to pay for immigration services and the cost of these applications is not to be underestimated. But it is not a tax on teachers, as the Independent article seems to imply. Rather, it is simply the price tag which comes attached to the UK immigration system, which, after Brexit, will apply to EU and non-EU nationals alike.