The passage of the Immigration Act 2020 into UK law will have wide-ranging affects on British and EU citizens after 1st January 2021

The Immigration Act 2020 Receives Royal Assent

On Wednesday 11th November, the Immigration Act 2020 or EU Withdrawal Bill received Royal Assent and became law in the UK ending free movement. Lets take a look at what’s in it.

The UK government’s announcment the Immigration Bill will be officially passed into law, after passing through Parliament two days earlier comes after a drawn out back and forth between the Home of Commons and the House of Lords over two years.

The Act itself will end free movement with countries in the EU on the 31st of December, when the UK’s transition period comes to an end. After this date, citizens of EU and EEA area countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) subject to UK immigration controls and will need permission to enter and stay in the UK to work or study.

Ending free movement by repealing legislation

The Act contains quite wide-ranging changes to EU citizens and their rights under UK immigration law. Many provisions that are within UK domestic law currently that enabled citizens to have free movement are repealed. This includes, for example, Article 1 of the Workers Regulation that gave EU citizens the right to work in the UK as if they were British citizens and without having to apply for a visa.

Section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988 is also repealed, which had exempted EU citizens from requiring leave to enter or remain in the UK.

As well as these specific points, the act includes a more general statement saying:

Any other EU-derived rights, powers, liabilities, obligations…cease to be recognised…in domestic law so far as they are inconsistent with or are capable of affecting the interpretation or application…of any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts (including…this Act)

Immigration Act /EU Withdrawal Bill 2020, Schedule 1, para 6

As Alexander Schymyck states on Free Movement, it “could hardly be any broader and clearly makes sure all aspects of free movement are taken off the statute book. But such a broad repeal undermines legal certainty”.

Broad language means protections could be repealed within other EU legislation that isn’t technically about free movement, for example protection for trafficking victims or asylum seekers.

Points-based immigration system?

Passage of the Act was the first big obstacle for the government to cross to get to the new points-based system. However, it contains nothing about the system itself, only that it will ‘enable it’s introduction’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in Prime Ministers Questions today that it will “fulfil our manifesto commitment and have a new, fair points-based system”. Priti Patel also echoed in a video released on Twitter that said “As of the 1st of January our points based system will be in place…to take back control of our immigration policy”.

Up to now, we know the points-based system will require all applicants to achieve 70 points to come to the UK to work and study, for speaking English and meeting a salary threshold for example.There will be no general “low skilled” or temporary routes. In the government’s words, this will attract more “high-skilled workers”.

In terms of the future of immigration in the UK, the Act itself doesn’t tell us much. It will be smaller changes in legislation, set out in the Immigration Rules as they are now for non-EEA citizens, that will set out exactly how the system will actually take shape.

Irish citizens

Previously, domestic law only exempted Irish citizens from needing leave to enter or remain in the UK if they’d arrived from within the Common Travel Area. However EU legislation had meant that didn’t matter, while the UK was part of the EU anyway.

As these changes make clear, Irish citizens still retain their special position in UK immigration law. An Irish national still does not require leave to enter or remain in the UK, no matter their country of departure.

EU Settlement Scheme

Applications for the EU Settlement Scheme must be done by 30th June 2021, with over 4 million applications already received as of October. Anyone who is an EU, EEA or Swiss national, have a family member who is or are not a British citizen (even if you are born in the UK) needs to apply to retain their residency rights after 31st December.

Although the scheme is set up to ‘protect’ citizens rights, putting any form of deadline on such a policy, for people who call the UK their home, will always end up causing hardship for some.

Law firms have warned of higher numbers of refusals by the end of September; up to 16,600 from just 2,300 at the end of June.

Delays due to the Coronavirus pandemic also mean that applications could take longer. It is vital that you as an individual or as a business employing European employees make your applications well before the June deadline.