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Forget The Scaremongering, Theresa May's Offering A Fair Deal For EU Migrants

26/06/2017 17:58 BST | Updated 27/06/2017 08:04 BST
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images

Forget the scaremongering. This is a fair deal for EU migrants. Anyone hoping for a continuation of the current system is living in denial. The UK voted for Brexit. It is going to happen, whether it be soft, hard, clean, open, red, white, or blue: the UK is leaving the EU.

And therefore, the UK needs a new immigration system. Quite rightly, the rights of those currently living in the UK - and those UK citizens living abroad - have taken priority. Should this have been done sooner? Yes. But it is being tackled now, and it is, for the most part, a fair deal.

If you are an EU citizen who lives in the UK, you will be allowed to stay here for the rest of your life. Forget about whether you've been here 50 years, five years, five months: you can stay.

But there will be changes. After the two year "blanket permission" period is over, migrants will have to provide proof of their immigration status at various points in their lives.

This will most likely take the form of an ID card. Some are up in arms about this, fearing it will lead to a checkpoint system where migrants have to produce their papers on demand to any official.

This is nonsense. It will simply mean that migrants will have to prove they have the legal right to work and live here. It is something we already do. When you start a new job, open a bank account, buy a house, or even rent a car, you have to provide evidence of who you are - usually through a passport or driving license.

These rules apply to UK nationals and migrants already. This is going to be no different when these rules kick in - it will just be a different piece of paper. If you can prove you're able to do something - you will be able to do it. Just like now. As the Prime Minister's Official Spokesperson said today when asked about ID cards for migrants, he replied: "I don't recognise the phrase 'ID cards' in the document."

Another criticism of the plans is the introduction of the minimum earnings threshold for EU migrants who wish to bring over a spouse or family member. Yes, in this instance, EU citizens are losing rights, but this is because Brits have fewer privileges in this area than their European counterparts.

Currently, a UK citizen has to be earning £18,600 a year in order to get permission to bring a spouse from outside the EU to the UK. Theresa May introduced this threshold in 2012 as part of measures to clamp down on abuse of the marriage visa system and hit her sub-100,000 net migration target.

This is the rule which will apply to EU citizens after Brexit. You may think the policy as a whole is deeply unfair, but surely it is more perverse that UK citizens have fewer rights in Britain than EU nationals? Imagine if that had continued post-Brexit?

The offer is a fair one, but that's not to say it isn't without problems. The most glaring is its sheer impracticality. The Home Office was already struggling to process a surge in residency applications after the Brexit vote, but that is nothing compared to the 3.2million it will have to make its way through in the two year "blanket permission" period. Civil servants are going to have to process around 4,300 applications a day, every day, for two years - ten times the number they currently deal with.

This is where the Government is wildly overambitious, and where needless worry for EU citizens will occur. As the clock ticks down towards the end of the two years, the hundreds of thousands waiting for their new immigration papers will be panicked their application has got lost in the system and they will not get the proof they need in order to live and work in the UK.

Additionally, as civil servants become increasingly overworked and under pressure, mistakes will be made. People who should be given permission to stay here will be incorrectly refused, prompting more worry and concern.

When I asked the Prime Minister's Official Spokesperson how much extra money would be set aside to help cope with this monumental task, I was told: "We are hoping for a smooth and streamlined process and the PM said she believes the Home Office can deliver."

Another concern is that the "settled status" qualification can be withdrawn if you spend two years living away from the UK. So that French engineer who moved here in 2007, and therefore has the right to stay indefinitely, will have to think twice about taking that two-year secondment on a project in Delhi.

She might love Birmingham, have lots of friends here but no family, and doesn't want to leave permanently, but if she takes her dream job in India she might not be allowed to return to the place she called home for more than ten years.

This "use it or lose it" rule when it comes to the right to reside goes against Theresa May's claim the UK is a "confident, outward-looking" nation. We're acting more like someone who doesn't want to talk to an old school pal when they return from university as we're jealous they've made new friends.

This proposal from the Government is mostly fair in principle, but ironically the scale of its ambition might be its undoing as the civil service machine struggles to cope with what is being asked of it.

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