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Open Europe’s Anthony Egan explains how free trade agreements constrain the immigration policies of contracting countries, the unilateral measures governments have at their disposal, and the implications of this for the next UK Government.
How do trade agreements affect domestic immigration policy?
Once the UK leaves the EU’s Single Market, the constraints placed on its immigration policy by EU membership will no longer apply. The Conservatives have signalled their desire for a UK-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and an end to EU free movement of people. Meanwhile, Labour has said that in its proposed renegotiation with the EU, free movement would be “subject to negotiation,” but has not set out exactly what it would seek to negotiate on migration. Either way, it is likely that Brexit will entail changes to the UK’s existing immigration policy.
There have been some suggestions that any future UK-EU agreement will include comprehensive provisions on migration policy. However, this is less likely to be the case if the next Government pursues an FTA-style relationship with the EU. While comprehensive FTAs elsewhere contain minimal provisions on migration compared to EU Single Market membership. Consequently, unilateral immigration measures are likely to play a more significant role in determining the openness of the UK’s future immigration policy.
This blog compares the immigration provisions of the EU Single Market to three other international trade agreements: the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which includes the US, Canada and Mexico; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community (ASEAN); and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CETA).
Movement of people (right to visa-free entry, reside and work)
Right to temporary migration for cross-border service provision (GATS Mode 4)
The WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) established a framework for the liberalisation of cross-border service trade. One of the modes of cross-border service provision (GATS Mode 4) relates to the presence of a person to deliver a service within a territory of a contracting member. This typically includes persons who are service suppliers, such as a lawyer providing cross-border legal counsel, and employees of a service supplier present in a contracting state. Provisions exist within NAFTA, CETA and ASEAN to streamline visa processes for these migrants, as well as certain other business personnel involved in the provision of cross-border services.
Mutual recognition of professional qualifications
The ability to practice one’s profession in another country is a significant factor in deciding whether to migrate to that country. Differences in the requirements of national regulators in recognising qualifications, such as licenses to practice medicine, can pose significant barriers to the migration of highly skilled individuals. In light of this, some trade agreements establish frameworks for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, taking into account professional education, experience and other certification to enable migrants to work abroad.
Social rights (access to welfare, housing, healthcare etc.)
Rights derived by family members
How can unilateral policy measures outside of trade deals impact immigration?
At the end of the transition period, the UK will regain control of its immigration policy for EU citizens, unless agreed otherwise. The openness of the UK’s immigration policy thereafter will mostly depend on unilateral policy measures, rather than on trade agreements. The main unilateral measures that impact immigration include:
What should the Government take from this?
It is still unclear exactly what Brexit might mean for the UK’s immigration policy. However, immigration policy is unlikely to be significantly constrained by FTAs with either the EU or third countries – certainly not to the same extent it is by EU membership. Examination of existing FTAs demonstrates how limited migration provisions in these agreements are. The next Government should be aware that the openness of its immigration policy is likely to be determined primarily by the unilateral decisions it makes, unless it chooses to agree otherwise.
If you cannot see the PDF reader below, please click here to access the table.