BREXIT: The Movers and Shakers in Immigration


In an ever-changing global environment, the significance of complying with immigration laws has reached an all-time high. Immigration is now not only a part of the elite “make it or break it” list of factors for a company when entering new markets, but also a major deciding factor for employers while making crucial decisions regarding workforce planning.


Employers these days are in a constant state of flux because of the complexity and uncertainty of immigration laws and procedures as well as the penalties associated with their non-compliance. The penalties can range from criminal prosecution and fines for both organizations and individuals, to reputational and performance risks for organizations both in the local market and globally.

The historic “Brexit” decision — the separation of the UK from the EU — came about by the people of the UK voting in a referendum to leave the EU. The referendum was held on 23 June 2016 and it was passed with a 52% vote in favor of the separation.

Brexit is going to create a ripple effect in all government policies, including those around immigration, as is evident from the focus immigration received in the debates held during the final weeks leading up to the referendum. The concerns raised by employees, employers and private individuals were primarily on the position of existing EU migrants in the UK and of UK citizens living and working in Europe. However, this concern is not likely to be resolved quickly or with any certainty.

Europeans and UK nationals can still travel to and remain in their respective host nations until the formal separation occurs, and the earliest that can happen is two years after the prime minister invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the only mechanism by which a country can leave the EU.

It is also expected that the net migration numbers in the UK will increase as Europeans are likely to travel to avoid any perceived closing of the borders. The Home Office, which is the government department responsible for immigration in the UK, expects a rise in applications for UK-settled status and UK citizenship from those Europeans who qualify to apply. If these expectations are correct, it would increase pressure on the current resources, resulting in an increase in the time for processing the applications.

It is also likely that there will be a period of reflection before any substantial immigration policy changes occur. However, further restrictions to the UK’s points-based system, as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), will still probably come into effect in the fourth quarter of 2016 and April 2017. These restrictions include the phased closure of the Skills Transfer and Short Term visa categories.

A vote to leave the UK brings about a new immigration debate and policy setting. The focus will be on two areas:

  • Policies during the transitional period of separation from the EU
  • The immigration policy after exit from the EU

In relation to the first category, it has been indicated that the European nationals currently living and working in the UK would be allowed to remain and that status quo will probably be honored.

In relation to the second category, the “Leave” campaign (supporters of Brexit) has suggested the use of the Australian points-based system to form the basis of a new UK immigration policy.  However, its complex provisions, drafted to assist an increase in skilled migration, may not be best suited to any new immigration agenda, and a fresh immigration approach, shaped and examined by the MAC, may evolve.

Now that the referendum has gone through, UK employers may have to wait for some time to gain clarity on transitional and future immigration changes. Communication strategies will be important to ensure all parts of their business have appropriate information, reassurance and data. The transitional period will be a vital one for workforce planning and reconsideration of recruitment and training policies.

From an Indian immigration perspective, work-related visa restrictions have already resulted in a fall in the number of Indian students studying in British universities, from 22,385 in 2012–13 to 18,320 in 2014–15, according to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA). According to a recent survey conducted by Hobsons, 82% EU students, 35% non-EU students and 48% Indian students reported that they would find the UK less attractive if the UK were to leave the EU. Also, because immigration was a burning issue in the debates prior to the referendum, the UK is likely to make its immigration laws stricter to secure more jobs for its own citizens.

The Indian IT industry may also have to modify its strategy considering that Brexit is likely to hamper the ease of mobility of labor across the EU. Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General of CII, in a statement underscored the importance of continued border-free access to European markets as a “key driver for Indian companies coming to the UK.”

Although the detailed timeline and nature of the transition to an ultimate separation is not certain, employers should start developing their strategic approach to managing this change.

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