If there is one issue that dominated the campaign leading up to the historic 2016 referendum on UK permanence in the EU, it was immigration. “Regaining control of the borders” became the great emblem of the Eurosceptic cause.
The controversial Nigel Farage, then leader of the UKIP party, refused to apologize after presenting a giant poster showing a long queue of refugees crossing the border between Croatia and Slovenia. The politician was accused of adopting “Nazi-style propaganda tactics” to help Brexit win. Next to the billboard was the message: “the EU has failed us all”.
The point is that the Brexiteers began to manipulate a discourse where, in the midst of the era of austerity imposed by the Executive to deal with the global financial crisis of 2008, they accused immigrants of stealing the jobs of the British and collapsing the public health system, demonstrations that were proven not to be true.
It also coincided that in 2015, Germany registered a record 1.1 million refugees from the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia. Many Brits voted for Brexit in the belief that they could reduce immigration from these countries, unaware that the debate was only limited to the European countries of the bloc. They put an end to freedom of movement. Of course, the door worked both ways. The EU citizens will no longer be able to enter the UK freely, but the British will not be able to travel freely through the 27 EU countries either.
After moving to Downing Street, Boris Johnson promised to carry out the biggest immigration reform in the United Kingdom in the last 40 years. And he has kept his promise because, as of January 1st, a new regulation based on the Australian point system, one of the strictest in the world, will come into force.
“We will end the routes for cheap, unskilled labour that have dominated immigration and our labour market in recent decades. From now on, only the brightest and best educated immigrants will come,” says Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Patel, from the hard core of Eurosceptics, is the daughter of immigrants. Her parents, originally from India, arrived in the United Kingdom in the 1960s with absolutely “nothing” and settled in Hertfordshire, England, where they created a successful chain of kiosks. Nevertheless, she is one of the voices in the Cabinet that most fervently defends now a new law that does not give any kind of priority to the community members.
Anyone who wants to enter the United Kingdom from now on must have a job offer, earn an average of 25,000 lbs per year and speak English. However, the new system introduces the so-called “global talent visa” and removes the limit of 21,700 people who can enter the country a year to address the current shortage of, for example, health in the national public health system. Up to one third of doctors practicing in the UK are foreign nationals.
What about tourists and students?
With the new immigration law, those who want to come as tourists will be able to do so for a period of six months. However, if they want to stay and work then they must first leave the country and apply for their own work visa.
The new rules will also apply to students, who will have to prove that they are able to “live on their own” (in short, that they do not cost the system), although they will be able to stay in the UK and work for two years after graduation.
Kate Nicholls, executive director of the UK hospitality trade association, anticipates that there will be problems for less skilled jobs, such as domestic workers, waiters and cooks. “We are already struggling to fill these vacancies so from now on there won’t be as many new restaurants opened and many of the existing ones will have to reduce their hours due to lack of staff,” she says.
On the other hand, the Executive has tried to meet the concerns of the horticultural industry by allowing about 10,000 low-skilled immigrants to come each year for a period of six months for the crops.
According to official estimates of the Executive, it is expected that about 70% of the 200,000 community members who move approximately every year to British soil are now excluded with the new immigration system, which would mean about 140,000 people each year.
According to the latest official data from the National Statistics Office, the number of immigrants who arrived in the United Kingdom in 2019 from countries outside the EU increased to 404,000, its highest level since these records began in 1975. Net migration from outside the EU – the indicator that reveals the difference between the number of people arriving and those leaving the country – also reached a record level, standing at 282,000 since that year.
On the other hand, the ONS revealed that net migration from EU countries fell in 2019 to 49,000, compared to 75,000 in 2018 and in contrast to the levels reached in 2015, when it exceeded 200,000.
For its part, the number of British who have emigrated to other EU countries since the Brexit referendum in 2016 increased by 30% over the usual percentage of departures to the common European space. And their privileged destination was Spain, according to research conducted jointly by the University of Oxford and the Social Science Center of Berlin, which reveals that more than half of that 30% decided to leave the British Isles in the three months following the historic plebiscite.