Could Britain crack down on EU immigration?

30 October 2012

Today's Daily Express explores an idea floated by Conservative MP Stewart Jackson to "take back control of our borders" which he claims would allow border staff to turn away more EU migrants with criminal records, poor health or no work arranged.

According to the Express, this would be legal under the current rules and is modelled on a precedent that has already been set on the continent in Spain.

So what is the Spanish example, and what does it tell us about the options available to the UK if it sought to limit entry into the UK to EU citizens?

In 2005 Spain reported the second highest immigration rate in Europe after the United Kingdom, and the second highest absolute net migration in the world after the US. Things have changed since the recession as new regulations were introduced to curb the numbers entering the country.

Spain's most recent immigration reforms were introduced in the summer of 2012. EU citizens working or living in Spain for more than three months are now required to submit employment and financial information, as well as national insurance and medical insurance records.

However despite this new requirement to provide more documentation, EU citizens continue to have the unrestricted right to work and reside in Spain. The Daily Express failed to note this important detail. 

In Spain, new regulations for non-EU workers implemented in 2011 ruled that ill, unskilled, unemployed workers or ones with past criminal convictions are not allowed to enter Spain's job market without the so-called Blue Card, a work and residence visa scheme. But these restrictions are not radically different from ones already in place in the UK

Though the Express says the proposed bill would be "legal within the current rules," it is hard to see how it could be put into place without violating the EU directive 2004/38/EC. In fact, the only way member states may restrict free movement is if an individual poses a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society." (L158/114)

Aside from that, there are currently only a few legal limitations to the free movement and immigration policy which apply to Bulgarian and Romanian workers in Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Malta, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. 

In accordance with the 2005 Treaty of Accession, these restrictions are due to expire in 2014 (2013 for Spain).

Swtizerland and Liechtenstein also bar free entry to Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Czech, Polish, Slovakian, and Slovenian workers. Again, these restrictions will expire in 2014, 2015, and 2016. 

As the 2004 directive puts it, free movement is "one of the fundamental freedoms of the internal market," and as such they are part and parcel of the UK's membership to the European Union. For the UK to forego these obligations would seem to require a change in domestic as well as European law.


Flickr image courtesy of Artamir.

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