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Examination of Witness

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Joe Owen:

Yes. This is a big opportunity to change the way the immigration system works, but clearly there is a trade-off between time and the level of ambition for what you can change. As it stands, the system would need to be up and running in less than two years. Clearly, time is a big constraint. That is one of the reasons why a lot of what sits at the core of the policy in the White Paper is the points-based system that existed before 2010. There were then a series of add-ons, such as the cap, which this removes, and stuff around the resident labour market test. Those things that were bolted are being stripped back.

The fact that there is so little time means that the level of ambition has to be curtailed in terms of what you can do. You would expect that changes will be needed over the longer term; we will not be done and dusted in December 2020. Such things as the promised review of the sponsorship system for employees might have to be done in the longer term. One of the things that we are looking at is whether there needs to be a bigger review of how the immigration system works, and the structures and processes in the Home Office. That was one of the things announced by the Home Secretary in response to the DNA testing issue.

One of the areas that is not touched on, and which will likely need a review—this has definitely been a theme in the evidence of all your previous panellists—is how enforcement works. You have heard from all the panellists since I have been here about the question of settled status, and what happens to the people who do not have settled status at the end. It is almost certain that quite large numbers of people will not.

It would be heroic if the Government managed to get to 95%. I think the dreamers scheme in the US, which was kind of similar in terms of the application process and who was eligible, got about 43% of people who were eligible. I think we did something in the UK around family leave to remain in the early to mid-2000s where we got about 20% coverage. Even if we were to stretch to 95%, which would be a really good job by the Home Office, you are talking potentially about nearly 200,000 people who do not have documentation. How does the enforcement system adapt to take into account the fact that that is just a reality we will be dealing with?

The Home Office will need to deal with the fact that there will be people for whom it does not have paperwork, and who technically may have no legal right to stay, if they did not apply within the time period. I think most people in the UK would recognise some kind of moral entitlement to stay if someone has lived here for 20-odd years. How the enforcement system adapts to that will be an important challenge.