EU Referendum and UK immigration

Prime Minister David Cameron
delivered his much anticipated
speech on the EU today.

David Cameron has promised a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union should the Conservatives win the next election, but what would that mean for UK immigration policy? And will it even happen?

In a long awaited speech - six months in the making - Prime Minister David Cameron has outlined his party's policy on putting the UK's membership of the European Union to the British public with a simple in/out referendum, should his party secure a majority at the next General Election. An event which would have a widespread on many aspects of British politics - particularly UK immigration policy. 

The referendum

"It is time for the British people to have their say," said the prime minister. "It is time to settle this European question in British politics. I say to the British people: this will be your decision."

Calls for a referendum on the UK's EU membership have been growing recently following cuts to public services and other harmful effects of the GFC. The prospect of Romania and Bulgaria acceding to the EU later this year has caused some to fear an influx of migrants and the rise of the UK Independence Party luring support from traditional Conservative Party supporters has increased pressure on the prime minister regarding a referendum.

Mr Cameron said that, should the Conservatives secure another term, a referendum would be held early in the next parliament; this is thought to be most likely before the end of 2017.

The prime minister said the decision for a referendum comes at a time when 'disillusionment' with the EU was 'at an all time high'.

"Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little why I am in favour of a referendum. I believe in confronting this issue, shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away."

Despite promising the referendum, Mr Cameron said he would first attempt to renegotiate a unilateral agreement with the EU to change the UK's relationship with the single market and secure more autonomy over such policies as immigration.

Once a new arrangement had been concluded, only then will the referendum take place. The EU is certain to change as the global economy continues to settle following the Global Financial Crisis and Mr Cameron said it would be 'wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right'.

Mr Cameron added that should the British public vote to remain part of the EU in any referendum, he would fight 'heart and soul' to remain part of the single market.

What would the UK's leaving the EU mean for UK immigration?

The UK's membership of the EU
has become a controversial issue.

Should the Conservatives win the next General Election and hold the referendum, the effect on UK immigration is likely to be incredibly affecting - particularly for those wanting to move to the UK from within the EU - but also for those already here.

Changes to the status of EU citizens who have used the Freedom of Movement directive to live and work in the UK would almost certainly lead to a surge in UK visa applications for those wanting to remain. With so many EU citizens already in the UK, this could result in an over burdening of the Home Office and potentially even lead to panic among those faced with being forced to leave the UK.

However, Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the timescales mentioned and the magnitude of the change would mean that any real effect would take several years to be felt.

"The decision to leave the EU would necessitate a large number of transitional measures being put in place to UK immigration policy and such large changes rarely take fewer than a matter of years," said Ms Murdock.

"A raft of new rules combined with the political uncertainty of such a change would mean most current UK residents would have sufficient time to apply for residency or Indefinite Leave to Remain [ILR] before any changes could take effect.

"While it would remain to be seen whether any changes would affect ILR or residency requirements, should this happen there could be significant backlash to those who had already obtained permission to remain in the country."

Will it even happen?

Mr Cameron has already said that he will seek to secure a new relationship with the EU before holding a referendum. While this prospect has already been derided by some, the larger question is whether the Conservative Party is even capable of securing the required majority in 2015.

According to the latest YouGov poll, Ed Miliband's Labour Party currently has an 11 point lead over the Conservative Party.

Lord Ashcroft, the influential Conservative peer, said it was time for the party's euro sceptics to 'declare victory and talk about something else'.

"The new policy will be in the manifesto. The only question is whether we get a chance to implement it," said Ashcroft.

"And that depends on whether we get a majority at the next election. And that depends on how voters think we are doing on the economy, jobs, public services, welfare, crime immigration: whether we are on their side and understand their priorities."

- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.