We’ve had two reports come out over the last week regarding the post-brexit impact on immigration. One warns that already skill shortages are creeping in and that these will inevitably impact on the economy. Another report predicts that the brexit bigots are in for a nasty surprise, as its likely that brexit won’t produce any meaningful cuts in UK immigration. It will make little difference overall and simply mean trading EU migrants who come in for shorter periods (which we want, as it means they pay taxes and leave before they become a burden on the state in later life). While in return we’ll be getting more older UK citizens moving back home, or longer term migrants from beyond the EU (both of whom are generally looking to settle permanently).
Surely both of these reports can’t be correct? Well yes they can be. Its just that both of them are feeling different parts of the brexit elephant at different times in the future. Inevitably the drop in the pound (which makes British wages less attractive), brexit uncertainty and the sharp rise in xenophobia all means that the number of Europeans coming in will take a knock. And, as noted, we are already seeing some of these effects. This will lead to labour shortages in many key areas. And a drop in people in work will eventually mean a drop in tax revenue.
Why can’t unemployed brits take up these posts? Well because in many cases they lack the skills and training required, or they live in the parts of the country where there aren’t labour shortages. At the same time, the low value of the pound makes wages in the rest of Europe suddenly seem rather attractive. So some of those with the skills we need, both British and EU citizens, might be tempted to move to Europe to take advantage of their now higher salaries.
On the other hand, as I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the representation of EU citizens in migration figures is often misunderstood by the brexiters. While yes, group together all of the EU countries their numbers look high, but we’re ignoring the fact that on a country by country basis far more come in from India or China than any EU country. And UK citizens and their families make up a very large chunk of net migration figures.
Also net migration figures represent just what they say – net migration, i.e. the turn over, those coming in minus those leaving. This is an important distinction because it means the numbers of people we are dealing with is a lot higher than many realise. You’ve got many UK citizens who travel back and forth for work related reasons, as well as seasonal workers who come into the UK to meet key skills shortages. The idea that all of these people are going to have to go through some sort of intensive screening and form filling is going to create a logistical nightmare.
We’ve had a taster of sorts of the chaos this will cause already. Some EU citizens have been thinking ahead and applying for UK residency. Note we’re talking about people married to British citizens, who’ve been here for 24 years. They get asked to fill out some Byzantine 85 page form, pay a few hundred quid in costs, surrender their passport for several months and then have their application rejected for no obvious reasons and get a letter back advising them to prepare to leave the UK.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of crap that migrants from beyond the EU have had to deal with for years. It highlights something we’ve long had to cope with in the HEI sector – that the UKBA is one of the most incompetent and badly run government departments on the planet. They are a law onto themselves who are able to hide their ineptitude and stupidity behind a cloak of scary Daily Mail headlines. Regularly they’d impose all sorts of Monty python-esque like rules or dictates on us (or employers), rules they’ll often then re-interpret in a completely different way to what the law actually says….then ignore any information we send them. e.g. the one time we did have to report one of my students to the UKBA (she dropped out of the course), I was more than a little surprised to bump into her on the bus a few months later (and she got off at the same stop as the halls of residence, so I’m guessing she was still living in her term time address). Yes they had her name and address and several months later, they still hadn’t done anything!
If any other government department behaved like the UKBA they’d be spending half their budget just defending themselves from lawsuits and paying out compensation to those whose civil rights they’d violated, or the time of employers and universities they’ve wasted.
Now imagine what’s going to happen when a few million EU citizens in the UK all have to apply at once for residency. Throw in another 6 million for those of us of Irish descent (if for some reason our reciprocal rights are lost) and we’ve got a massive backlog (I believe they currently handle only about 100,000 a year!). The end result is something akin to the Clark County gaming commission. There will be a ten year backlog and as a result anyone who you would genuinely want to kick out (e.g. a Muslim jihadi, Romanian Gypsy criminal horse meat butcher….I’m trying to imagine the worse case scenario for a Daily Mail reader), it will take several years for his application to get to the front of the pile and thus for anyone to realise he shouldn’t be in the country. And when his number is about to come up, all he has to do is change his circumstances (e.g. change his name by deed poll, marry, divorce, have a kid, etc.) and his application gets moved to the bottom of the pile.
At this point UK immigration law becomes pointless, as one could live and die without it ever applying to you. This is why Australia, UKIP’s poster child, doesn’t apply the same rules for New Zealand citizens as it applies to those from Europe. Similarly Canada and America apply a much more relaxed immigration policy to each other than they do to those from further afield. Its simply not logistically possible to have everyone coming in from your nearest neighbours fill out an 85 page form and then pay some civil servant to read it. In short, the proposed immigration controls are just unworkable.
Clearly what these stories show is that there’s an urgent need to reign in and reform the UKBA. Keep in mind that this incompetence and mistreatment of EU citizens has already been noted by the EU and they will inevitably reciprocate post-brexit. So failing to reign the UKBA in will mean it takes 6 hours for UK citizens to clear customs post-brexit. Frankly whichever moron came up with this ridiculous 85 page form (so complicated that even the UKBA can’t seem to figure it out!), should be sacked on the spot. Ultimately for the sake of speed and efficiency, the UK’s immigration rules will require simplification. And even in the best case scenario, more border guards will still have to be hired to prevent any backlogs developing in the system. And that’s going to cost a few billion. Yet another of those many “hidden extra” costs (along with a few billion for the farmers, eight billion for university research, another eight for the car industry, etc.) that the brexiters forgot to mention on the side of those buses.
So the Tory policy on immigration is clearly unworkable, it would be difficult to come up with anything worse. But what is Corbyn’s response? Well he’s come up with some half baked plan to divert immigrants away from certain parts of the country that already have large numbers of migrants. To call this a massive misreading of the situation is an understatement. Migrants generally congregate in the parts of the country where there are labour shortages and thus jobs available. These areas tend to see very little support for either UKIP or brexit. By contrast areas with high unemployment and low rates of migration tend to be where the support for brexit was at its strongest.
It is in these areas with relatively low immigration rates where you’ll find UKIP bigots sitting on their arse whinging about migrants taking their jobs, when in truth there are jobs available, if they’d just get up off their arse and move somewhere where there is work (or perhaps retrain and gain the skills to get a job). And unlike the UKIP’ers, migrants have no interest on sitting around living on benefits. And how is Corbyn going to make them move where he wants them too? Is he going to have is own version of the stasi follow immigrants around?
Corbyn’s is basically proposing to pour fuel on the UKIP fire. It represents such a colossal misreading of the problem, that it clearly shows that he is even more out of touch on this issue than the Tories. And that takes some doing.
Either way, all of this means that any hope of the brexiters for a points system and serious cuts to immigration is unlikely. But unfortunately, that’s not going to stop them trying. Hence why we’ll probably see them try to impose some Daily Mail friendly border controls. Of course once the UKBA ends up buried under a sea of paper work, many millions of the types they want to keep out, sneak in through the cracks, while a lack of skilled labour leads to factories closing, chronic NHS staffing shortages, crops rotting in the fields, etc. Finally at this point, there will be panic and they’ll have to roll back these restrictions.
In short, the UK will have voted for the worst of both worlds, loss of all of the benefits of being in the EU with none of the border controls that were supposedly the justification for brexit in the first place.