Following his appointment as the UK’s new Prime Minister last week, Boris Johnson has appointed the key cabinet members who will be responsible for driving forward his new Government's policy on immigration. Priti Patel, as the new Home Secretary will have overall responsibility and has already indicated that she has plans for a tougher immigration policy. Brandon Lewis, the new Immigration Minister, will be responsible for developing and implementing those plans. Brandon was in fact the Immigration Minister just last year for a few months before he was promoted, so the appointment could be seen as a backward step for him. No doubt he was encouraged to accept this on the basis that there is a big job to be done in developing the UK's post-Brexit immigration system.
The new PM announced on Friday that he will be asking the Migration Advisory Committee to devise a new plan for the UK's immigration system once we have left the EU with a view to this being based on the Australian points based model. Under the Australian model, the immigration criteria are set according to the wider needs of the economy, so if for example there is a shortage of nurses applicants with particular skills or qualifications in that area will be granted a higher level of points to qualify. The Government's announcement nevertheless seems to ignore the fact that we already have a points based system in place which was introduced in 2008 to control the entry of non-EU migrants, so it will be interesting to see what new approach the MAC recommends.
The change of direction in relation to the post-Brexit system should have no impact upon the position of EEA nationals who are already in the UK or those who enter the UK on or before our actual exit day (currently set for the 31 October). Boris Johnson has confirmed that there will be no changes to the existing EU Settlement Scheme which has been fully operational since March 2019 and applies whether we leave with a deal or not. Under this scheme all EEA nationals and their family members can apply for settled status if they have been here for 5 years or longer or pre-settled status if they have been here for a shorter period of time. The applicable rules under this scheme will however depend upon how we eventually leave, but were recently set out by the Home Office as follows:
If the Government agrees a deal with the EU that offers the same protection for EU nationals that are contained in the current Withdrawal Agreement that was negotiated by Mr Johnson's predecessor, EEA nationals already in the UK and those who enter the UK within the transition period up to the 31 December 2020 would have until 30 June 2021 to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Under this scenario there would be no transition period and EEA nationals must have entered the UK by 31 October 2019 in order to benefit from the terms of the EU Settlement Scheme and would have until 31 December 2020 to apply for status.
There is of course a possibility that the new administration might revise some of the deadlines, but given Mr Johnson's commitment that there will be no change to the EU Settlement Scheme it is unlikely that there will be any major changes especially as the new system is already in place and at the last count over 900,000 EEA nationals had already applied for status.