Coronavirus May Extend Free Movement between UK and EU

Almost four years after the UK voted to leave the EU, the shape of the country’s post-Brexit immigration system is finally becoming clearer. When free movement ends, EU and non-EU citizens will in most cases face the same rules if they want to enter the UK for work, family, or study purposes.

A new work-visa system is expected to admit people with job offers who meet regulated skill and salary thresholds. The new system will also drop some of the bureaucracy that currently faces non-EU citizens, such as the requirement for employers to advertise jobs in advance in the UK. For non-EU workers, this is a liberalization. For example, workers in middle-skilled jobs, such as carpenters or office managers, are not currently eligible for long-term work visas but will become so under the new rules. For EU workers on the other hand, the proposed system is dramatically more restrictive than the status quo: many of those who came to the UK over the past 20 years are working in low-wage positions that would not meet the new requirements. EU citizens coming for family and study purposes will also face many more restrictions than they do at present, including high visa fees for both temporary and permanent stays. When will all this happen? The default timetable is January 2021. However, the recent upheaval caused by coronavirus throws this into doubt. The UK can only implement its new immigration system when the post-Brexit ‘transition period’ is over, and if this is extended to give negotiators more time to discuss trade and other issues, we may not be seeing the end of free movement quite yet.

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