An examination of some of the issues involved by Martyn Vaughan
One of the major factors influencing the Brexit vote, especially in Wales, was the level of immigration into the UK.
Total net immigration is defined as the difference between immigration into the UK minus emigration out of the UK. In the year to June 2016 this was estimated to be 335,000, with approximately 56% of this figure being net immigration from outside the EU. About 61% came from outside the EU to work with the rest coming to study. The Conservatives’ pledge under David Cameron was to cut this number to the tens of thousands.
Most of these migrants are lucrative to both employers and higher education establishments. The Government already sets annual caps on non-EU workers but some are exempted – mainly the intra-company transfers which occur when a multinational company posts workers to the UK. In recent years this has amounted to around 30% of all non-EU migrant worker visas. This clearly helps the UK economy directly and also awards British multinationals the same privileges. The UK also has obligations under World Trade Organisation rules on Trade In Services which require us to provide access to managers, specialist staff and their families to the UK.
In addition to the purely economic dimension to non-EU immigration in 2016 38,000 visas were granted to non-EU citizens to join a family member here and 12,000 were granted asylum.
Of course, non-economic reasons for people from outside the EU seeking entry to Britain have increased recently with the upsurge in people moving out of the African continent, some – but not all – of which are fleeing violence in their homelands. Some have blamed the EU’s Schengen system for an upsurge in such people coming here. The Schengen system aims to abolish border checks between participating countries in order to sped up trade. However, there are strict rules on people entering the bloc, which require the person to obtain a short term visa. The Schengen system includes rules on policing and criminal law including protocols on sharing evidence and co-operation between police forces. There is also the Schengen Information System which is a real-time database of non-EU citizens who should be refused entry into any Schengen state. There is also a European Arrest Warrant which has replaced earlier aspects of Schengen. However, much of this is academic as the UK has opted out of Schengen with the exception of those parts to do with criminality. The UK can refuse EU nationals if there is good evidence that they are engaged in criminality but the entry of non-EU nationals in entirely under UK law. The UK controls its borders for these as long as it devotes the necessary resources to do that. Brexit will not give the UK any more powers in this area.
As regards refugees, the UK must decide whether to remain in the Dublin III Regulation, which determines which EU member state is responsible for an asylum seeker. The UK has up to now been in favour of Dublin III as it has allowed it to transfer more refugees out of the UK than it has received.
Turning to EU citizens after Brexit, placing them under the same restrictions as non-EU people would mean a huge increase in the resources needed to police the borders. A Brexit freeze on EU movement would have long-term effects upon our economy as it would reduce the number of working-age people coming to the UK. This would, inter alia, alter the ratio between working people and pensioners and might require an increase in the pension age. Thus there is an inescapable trade off between controlling immigration umbers and the economy. Any new Free Trade deals with non-EU countries will most likely include free movement of people as they are one of the necessary factors of production. If money can move, why cannot people? The Government has already stated that it will have to exempt key professional staff from any restrictions. Official figures show that 22% of EU migrants are in professional jobs, 22% in skilled occupations and 56% in unskilled jobs. Employers will also be loath to see large reductions in 80,000 seasonal workers of which 90% are EU nationals. According to the think tank Global Future EU staff are essential in large areas such as hospitality, transport, building and – last and certainly not least – the NHS. According to the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) about 29% of their members’ workforce are EU nationals.
All the above arguments are UK-based. However, they apply even more to Wales as its economy is based more around these sectors than the UK as a whole. In Wales FDF members accounted for £4.3 billion in turnover and this figure has been increasing rapidly recently. It supports 22,000 Welsh jobs and contributes more than £392 million in Welsh exports.
Hence it can be concluded that attempts to greatly reduce the net immigration figure will be extremely difficult – but should it succeed it would have a disastrous affect upon the economy, not least on that of Wales.