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UK immigration system “almost impossible to navigate”

04 September 2018

Last week The Guardian published an article about the volume of UK immigration laws and the frequency of changes and amendments to them. This was sparked by some damning remarks from Lord Justice Irwin who said that the system is “something of a disgrace” and almost impossible to navigate.

In 2012, while Theresa May was Home Secretary, 1,300 changes were made to UK immigration law claiming to make the rules more simple and objective. The volume of the Rules has almost doubled since 2010 with a new set of changes a week apart or less on seven occasions, and at one time 22 changes were published only to be superseded by 250 changes in a second version, three days later.

Immigration lawyers will have likely spent the past decade explaining to employers and individual visa applicants that the rules are dense, often contradictory and more often than not they are difficult to locate in the format that they are hurriedly published in. Yet at the same time they are prescriptive and leave little room for common sense.

What the article misses is the corollary to the impenetrable volume of requirements and restrictions. That is; an ever increasing onus on employers and landlords as well as exponentially increasing penalties for non-compliance. It is a harsh environment even for a specialist immigration lawyer let alone the vast majority of businesses trying to be compliant. It should come as no surprise that between health and safety, employment law, taxes, GDPR and money laundering the probability that a new client is entirely compliant with immigration law is very low. If you make a simple error or oversight (as the vast majority of non-compliance issues are) your ability to hire non-EEA nationals can be swept away with very little avenue for legal redress.

With Brexit looming, EEA nationals and their family members will soon come under the UK immigration law umbrella. What exactly that will look like should become clear in the next couple of months once the Migration Advisory Committee publish their report in September, followed shortly by the Home Office’s immigration White Paper in October. There have been some heavy hints there will be a temporary visa for low skilled work, something along the lines of the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa. This should serve the UK’s economic needs and the overall pattern of low-skilled migration to date. However, rather worryingly for business, there has been a growing feeling that Tier 2 will essentially be expanded to incorporate EEA skilled workers as well. The same Tier 2 - the system that caused near disaster to the NHS this year by refusing entry to thousands of doctors and nurses because of its inflexibility.

The Prime Minister has promised everything will be simplified in the post-Brexit Immigration regime but, it is yet to be seen how simple this will be.

Read the related article on The Guardian website

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