The Social Market Foundation, an independent British public policy think-tank based in Westminster recently published an article comparing Britain’s anticipated post-Brexit immigration policies with those currently in force in Japan.
Japan has been recognised internationally for having extremely tough immigration policies. A “closed-door” policy, a falling birth rate and an ageing population have left the country dangerously short of young workers, essential for sustaining both society and the economy. For years, Japan denied that its immigration policies led to a widespread abuse of the rules, such as foreigners working illegally while being registered as students. At the same time, however, Tokyo seemingly accepted the need for change. As of last week, the government has proposed new laws allowing the entry of low-skilled workers in key areas of the economy, such as health and social care to ensure that these sectors are staffed appropriately.
While it seems that Japan has finally faced up to the need for an immigration policy that caters for low-skilled labour migration, Britain is doing the opposite.
EU citizens will no longer be able to use EU free movement rules to live and work in the UK after Brexit. In what promises to be a radical overhaul of immigration policy Theresa May’s government wants to severely restrict the entry of workers earning less than £30,000 year from Europe. That includes nurses, NHS technicians and primary school teachers.
EU freedom of movement currently allows all passport holders from the European Union – as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – to travel and work in the UK without visas, regardless of skills. For the rest of the world, specific work permits are needed to come and work in the UK. Visas for “skilled workers”, who usually have to earn at least £30,000 annually, must be “sponsored” by a UK-based company. At present, the UK allows up to 20,700 high-skilled workers into the UK each year.
The UK government’s plan to potentially implement this system so that it also applies to EU nationals could lead to a decrease in low-skilled migration to the UK. This could in turn undermine the UK labour market and key public services and infrastructure. A reduction in low-skilled migrants could leave the UK facing huge staffing issues in key areas of the economy such as health and social care, similar to Japan.
Even the government’s Migration Advisory Committee, whose work (partially) underpins the proposed European migration curbs, is worried about the effects a reduction of low-skilled migrants will have on sectors such as social care. Approximately 8% of care staff in the UK come from the EU. Meanwhile, more than 10% of care jobs are vacant, compared with 3% of jobs as a whole. The welfare system in the UK is already under considerable strain following years of austerity that have seriously affected all areas of the public sector, especially. The concern is that the current proposals will make life much harder for those who rely on public services every day to survive.
Note also in this regard the abolition of the Domestic Worker scheme in 2012 – which had previously been a method by which families could provide care for elderly relatives without burdening the NHS. Many Domestic Workers went on to become nurses or carers, either remaining with elderly employers or joining the NHS and care home, until this scheme was shut down.
Despite formal exit looming large on the horizon (we are just five months away), the UK’s migration policy after Brexit is far from settled. Prominent Brexiteers are keen to emphasise that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU represents an opportunity to look beyond Europe to the rest of the world. They should start by looking at Japan and learning from the mistakes of the past. The alternative is that they will simply repeat them.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.