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 I believe 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.
I welcome the fact that the Government remains committed to an immigration policy that welcomes and celebrates those who are here legally. The Government is to build a fairer single, global immigration system which considers people based on their skills, rather than nationality. I understand that you have a number of concerns and I appreciate this is an area covering many important issues.
You are absolutely right to say that the UK should continue to take action to help those who are vulnerable and need our protection, specifically unaccompanied child refugees. The Government is committed to doing this and has a strong record on supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. Through resettlement schemes, the UK resettles more refugees than any other country in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. Since September 2015, more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees have been resettled, with around half being children.
The UK presented a credible and serious offer to the EU to agree 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 I believe that it would not be right to undermine these 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. I do however welcome the fact that the Government has agreed to revisit the UK’s unilateral position if an agreement is not possible.
Regarding family reunification, 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. The change suggested 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 I have 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. I believe 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.