Details are still awaited, but from what said in the British parliament on May 8, it is clear that employers and landlords face bigger burdens in implementing the measures envisaged in the immigration bill intended to discourage migrants from elsewhere in the EU, notably Bulgaria and Romania.
Because for all the talk of the proposed immigration bill being designed to “ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not”, as the British government wrote for the Queen to read out, even though that phrasing theoretically makes it a law of general application, the proposal clearly is targeted against Bulgarian and Romanian citizens who may take up the rights conferred on them by EU treaties after January 1 2014.
The imagined torrents of Bulgarians and Romanians arriving on British shores next year, a spectre conjured up by sections of the UK press and some politicians in recent months – a particularly laughable British media report spoke of 29 million, more than the entire populations of the two countries combined – now will mean that landlords will have to check the right of residence of their tenants, while employers will face higher penalties for employing people illegally.
The UK repeatedly has said that it would not impose labour market restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians, and indeed it cannot, not without breaching its EU treaty obligations or quitting the bloc altogether. But as to the latter, as not a few commentators in the British press noted on May 8, the Queen was given no lines about a referendum on the UK leaving the EU.
The coalition government has, however, come up with whatever steps it can take, presumably having checked that these are permissible within EU law, which on the face of it they appear to be.
Against the background of the UK Border Agency having been the subject of recently-announced reforms because of serious shortcomings, part of the burden of enforcement immigration laws now would shift inland to private citizens.
Landlords presumably would have to ask for and check the validity of documentation certifying legal residence. How this mechanism would work, especially in regard to checking, remains to be seen.
A question that does not appear to have been addressed is what happens about existing landlord-tenant contractual relationships. Again, presumably detection of illegal residents is being left to state authorities. Consider the burden should every tenant in the UK have to be checked, but also consider that the focus on forthcoming tenancy applications is really about those imagined hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians (anti-immigration voices made short shrift of a BBC-commissioned professional survey that found intentions among Bulgarians and Romanians to move to the UK to be somewhat low; the numbers did not fit their scenario, so they scorned them, accusing the BBC of cooking the books).
Employers similarly would be obliged to check the validity of residence documents, presumably including passports, visas and whatever other documentation. There is no doubt that stopping illegal employment is a good thing, given that it can sometimes be linked to exploitation of employees – although that latter point hardly seems to have been addressed. The sum of fines to be paid for failing to establish that an employee has the right to work has not yet been specified, but will increase from the current 5000 pounds sterling.
Other measures in the speech in the British parliament included the intention to restrict EU migrants to jobseekers’ allowances to six months, priority for local people in access to social housing, and a requirement of residence for 12 months before eligibility to access to civil legal aid. Access to the National Health Service will be tightened and illegal migrants will not be eligible for driving licences.
With choice irony, the measures announced by the UK government come on the eve of Europe Day, in a year that the European Commission declared the “European Year of Citizens”.
At a news conference in Brussels on May 8, the EC announced, through its Vice President Viviane Reding, “12 new actions to make EU citizens’ rights a reality”.
“Enabling Europeans to benefit from job opportunities in other EU countries and contribute to the economy is at the top of what we have agreed today,” Reding said.
“Labour mobility is Europe’s chance to battle the crisis. That is why we will look into updating the EU’s social security coordination rules to allow citizens to continue receiving the financial support they are entitled to at home for longer than the current minimum three months period – when they want to look for a job in another EU country. In our polls, 70 per cent of citizens considered that they should receive unemployment benefits for at least six months when looking for a job in another EU country,” she said.
Member states should also make full use of the current rules to allow jobseekers to receive their unemployment benefits for up to six months. This will be the test case for member states to show how committed they are to easing the effects of the crisis on ordinary people, Reding said.
“We will also make it easier for young people to find out about traineeships and apprenticeships in other EU countries through EURES – the European network of employment services – and its online jobs portal. And we want to guarantee them quality work placements by setting out aEuropean quality framework for traineeships. Today, a traineeship contract specifying the rights and obligations of the parties is still not compulsory in one fourth of member states,” she said.
“We want to make sure traineeships are not used as a form of ‘unpaid employment’ but that our young generations get the best out of their work experience abroad in the EU.”
The points set out by Reding come as the EC works toward increasing labour mobility in the bloc. The British approach to discouraging movement by EU citizens is in sharp contrast; but then, differing views of the European project in London and in Brussels is hardly anything new. Perhaps leaving that referendum question out of the speech in the UK parliament was a mistake.
(Photo: Nick Manning)