The Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is a vital piece of legislation to provide the foundations for our new immigration system. This is a simple piece of legislation to end free movement of people and any amendments to the legislation will simply delay or prevent the Government from fulfilling a clear manifesto commitment. This Bill is not the place for making changes to broader immigration policy.
The Government remains committed to an immigration policy that welcomes and celebrates those who are here legally. My colleagues are working to build a fairer single, global immigration system which considers people based on their skills, rather than nationality.
The UK will continue to take action to help those who are vulnerable and need our protection, specifically unaccompanied child refugees. We have a strong record of supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. Through resettlement schemes, the UK resettles more refugees than any other country in Europe and we’re in the top five countries worldwide. Since September 2015, more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees have been resettled, with around half being children.
Disagreement on this issue is more about process than policy. As you may be aware, the UK presented a credible, and serious, offer to the EU to agree to new post-transition arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Government has confirmed that it remains the goal to negotiate such an arrangement.
As I hope you will appreciate, negotiations are ongoing, and it would not be right to undermine this in any way. A UK-EU agreement would be preferable to domestic Immigration Rules, as it would guarantee the support of sending states in the referral, transfer and safeguarding of children during the process. Therefore, a negotiated agreement is clearly the preferred approach. The Government has agreed to revisit the UK’s unilateral position if an agreement is not possible.
Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, EU citizens who have settled in the UK before the end of the transition period are eligible to apply for settled status so that the rights they currently enjoy are guaranteed.
After the end of the transition period, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated in the same way. There will no longer be discrimination based on citizenship and so EU citizens will need to meet the same requirements set out by immigration rules as non-EU citizens.
I am aware of the amendment tabled by the House of Lords in this area would provide preferential family reunion rights under EU free movement law indefinitely. The result would be that the family members of such UK nationals would forever bypass the Immigration Rules that otherwise apply to the family members of other UK nationals.
The main concern regarding this suggested change, is that it would result in an unfair situation for all other UK nationals wishing to live in the UK with family members from other countries outside the EEA and Switzerland. The British people voted to ensure the creation of a new immigration system built on fairness and not based on nationality. Unfortunately, the suggested creation of a lifetime right for one group of nationals would be unfair on the other UK citizens living overseas who have family members from other parts of the world.
While I understand that you may be disappointed by this position, this is a fairer approach for those wishing to come to this country in the future. Preferential treatment rights for only one group of people would be unfair.
The Government is focused on working closely with local authorities to ensure vulnerable groups, such as children, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. Ministers have been clear from the start of the EU Settlement Scheme that the Home Office will accept late applications where there are reasonable grounds for doing so. If a child in care or care leaver does miss the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK.
Regarding modern slavery, the government is resolute in ensuring this horrendous crime is tackled. We are identifying more victims of modern slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before. Continued support of victims and survivors is a clear priority and the Government is committed to helping these individuals rebuild their lives.
However, a blanket policy of granting discretionary leave unfortunately risks creating the incentive for some to make false trafficking claims. This approach would put support for those who truly need help at risk. Having said this, of course, granting leave to remain is appropriate in some cases. However, the individual circumstances of each case must remain central to any decision.
I hope this response has highlighted the areas where the Government is already at work to ensure protections are provided for those who need them and that our new immigration system works more fairly.