Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes has told MPs that employers will be required to check whether EU nationals have the right to work in the UK following a no-deal Brexit, even though the government is unable to explain to businesses or EU citizens on how this will work.
Critics have highlighted it will be almost impossible for employers to determine who is entitled to work in the UK following Brexit.
Impossible For An Employer To Differentiate
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes Credit: Wikimedia Commons
In a session with the Home Affairs Select Committee, Nokes was asked to explain how businesses employing EU nationals could differentiate between a person who has been here for five years and can therefore seek ‘settled status’, enabling them to live and work in the UK indefinitely, and EU citizens who arrive after March 2019.
She said: “You are absolutely right to point out that somebody who has been here for ten years and has simply not yet been through the [settled status] scheme, it will be almost impossible for an employer to differentiate between them and somebody who is a new arrival.”
She added: “We are quite clear that this is absolutely one of the conundrums employers will face – that there will be people who have rights under the settled status scheme but haven’t yet gone through the process to evidence that.”
It is believed the total number of applications for settled status could run to more than 3.5 million, with Nokes admitting that ensuring the settled status scheme running smoothly will be difficult.
It is going to be an enormous challenge for both employers and EU citizens who do have the right to work
Caroline Nokes, Immigration Minister
Nokes said: “It is going to be an enormous challenge for both employers and EU citizens who do have the right to work to make sure we get them through the scheme as efficiently as we possibly can.”
The Hostile Environment Strikes Again
Credit: Global Justice Now Flickr
Campaigners have highlighted that the Home Office’s controversial hostile environment policy requires civil society, including employers to check the immigration status of employees.
Despite Nokes admitting it is virtually impossible to distinguish between which EU nationals have the right to work and those who do not, she confirmed the burden of ensuring that EU individuals are permitted to work in the UK, will still fall on employers.
Nokes said: “As part of the right-to-work check, we expect employers to make sure that they are not employing people who do not have the right to work here.”
The confusion, led the Chair of Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper MP to remark, she was ‘really baffled’.
Cooper said: “Either you’re going to have a system that in practice is unworkable because employers can’t implement it, or you’re going to have to accept that people who are arriving after March 2019 will just be covered by exactly the same rules as people who are already here.”
Is Another Windrush Fiasco Looming?
The3Million, a group representing the rights of EU citizens in the UK, said Nokes’ admissions to the Home Affairs Selection Committee were ‘truly shocking‘ and would ‘plunge 3.6m EU citizens straight into the hostile environment in case of no deal Brexit.’
Campaigners fear it will lead to employers and landlords discriminating against EU citizens to prevent falling foul of legal requirements to check immigration status of employees and tenants.
Following the Home Affairs Select Committee session The3Million tweeted “In summary, the UK Govt’s policy for no-deal Brexit on EU citizens is to stop Freedom of Movement on March 29th, 2019. Immediately creating 2 classes of EU citizens with 2 different sets of rights. Indistinguishable to employers, landlords, health service & banks.”
Campaigners and MPs have both drawn parallels with the Windrush scandal in which British citizens were detained, deported and denied rights because of the Home Office’s hostile environment policy.
The level of discrimination driven by this government policy will dwarf that seen with the Windrush Generation
The3Million tweeted, “The level of discrimination driven by this Govt policy will dwarf that seen with the Windrush Generation. Something seen as a ‘challenge’ for the Govt by Caroline Nokes, but something that has the potential to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of EU citizens.”
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey, meanwhile, said: “Millions of EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for more than two years. Far from clearing up that uncertainty today, the immigration minister made it worse.
The government’s chaotic approach to Brexit risks a repeat of that [Windrush] scandal for EU citizens.
Sir Ed Davey
“We’ve already seen in the Windrush scandal how the Conservatives’ hostile environment checks can destroy the lives of people who have every right to be in the UK. The government’s chaotic approach to Brexit risks a repeat of that scandal for EU citizens.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has launched a legal challenge because the government has broken its promise that all EU nationals were welcome to stay in the UK.