UK immigration minister sparks confusion with remarks on EU nationals

Caroline Nokes admitted it would be almost impossible to establish if existing employees were long-term residents or not

Caroline Nokes, U.K. immigration minister, arrives for a pre-budget meeting of cabinet ministers at number 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. When Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond stands up in Parliament at 3:30 p.m., it is in the knowledge that much of what he promises hinges on a successful outcome of talks in Brussels with the U.K. leaving on March 2019, deal or no deal. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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Britain’s immigration minister sparked confusion on Tuesday by saying employers would have to check the immigration status of EU nationals after Brexit – even though it would be “impossible” to do so.

During a parliamentary committee hearing, Caroline Nokes admitted that it would be almost impossible for employers to establish whether existing employees or job applicants were long-term residents or not if they had not yet obtained “settled status”.


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Under a proposed government scheme, which is to be in place by the time Britain leaves the European Union on March 29 next year, EU migrants who have resided in Britain for at least five years by the end of 2020 can apply for “settled status”.

This means they would be able to live in Britain indefinitely.

Anyone living in Britain who does not have five years’ residence by December 31, 2020 can apply to stay until they have.

The government has not yet outlined its proposed immigration system that would apply after 2020.

“This is absolutely one of the conundrums employers will face,” Ms Nokes said.

“People who have rights under the settled status scheme but haven’t yet gone through the process to evidence that.”

The settlement scheme, which is being tested on 600 people, will apply to more than 3.5 million EU nationals living in Britain.

“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,” Ms Nokes said.

The government had indicated that it would not require employers to make immigration checks on existing staff who are EU nationals.

Ms Nokes was pressed on the issue by Yvette Cooper, an opposition Labour MP and head of the home affairs committee, who said she was “really baffled”.

“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,” Ms Cooper said.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the requirement would lead to “unfair persecution of EU nationals”.

“Another day, another example of a government with neither the intent nor the ability to run a fair and humane immigration system after Brexit,” the campaign group said.