Briefing for the beach: Home Office

Across the summer the Social Market Foundation will be publishing policy briefings from our Director, Emran Mian. We welcome feedback, so if you'd like to get in touch about anything discussed in the briefing, please contact

So, not likely to be a quiet period for this Department, is it?

While the creation of the new Department for Exiting the EU has got more press coverage, a lot of the issues it aims to resolve end up pretty quickly at the Home Office.

Take the example of EU citizens already in the UK. There’s over 3 million of them. Deciding what to do about their status – and then doing it – are fundamentally Home Office issues, inseparable from the general administration of immigration and nationality. Many of the EU citizens already in the UK are entitled to permanent residence. But, if they were all to apply, the Home Office would suddenly be facing, on its current capacity, more than a century’s worth of new casework.

Okay, so there must be a lighter touch approach?

Maybe, rather than must. One option would be to grant residence to every EU citizen who already has a National Insurance number. That’s much simpler. But then some of the EU citizens with National Insurance numbers aren’t living in the UK now. Conversely, some people who have been living here for a long time may never have got a number – for example, if they’re retired.

A few hard cases then . . .

Probably more like tens of thousands. This isn’t even considering that allowing very large numbers of EU citizens to retain the right to live and work in the UK may be politically challenging.

When we calculated, based on current rules, that over half a million EU citizens in the UK won’t have the right to permanent residence by the time of a Brexit in 2019, some newspapers reported despairingly that there were so few people that the Government would be able to eject. Actually that number shrinks if a more liberal approach is taken, like that based on National Insurance numbers.

What about future migrants?

The Leave campaign talked about adopting a new points-based system for immigration after Brexit. We already have many of the features of such a system for non-EU migrants. But replacing free movement across the EU with a more tightly managed system is challenging.

Replicating our current system for non-EU migrants, for example, would mean that effectively no EU migrant who presently works in UK hotels or restaurants would qualify; and over 80% in total would be excluded in the same way. Adopting such restrictive rules for the future would certainly bring down net migration. Combined with slower economic growth, as now forecast by the Bank of England among others, net migration may easily fall into the tens of thousands. But this is likely to leave very big gaps in our labour market.

Then there’s another pressing issue.

Thought there would be . . .

International students. Almost one in five students at UK universities are from outside the UK. In 2014-15, that was 124,575 from other EU countries; and 312,010 from outside the EU. The Home Office has made it harder to recruit students from overseas in recent years; the logic of the Brexit approach to immigration suggests conditions might get tougher still.

Yet there’s £3.6bn at stake in fee income and over £5bn in other spending that international students undertake when they’re in the country.

On EU students specifically, they get access to Government loans to pay fees for the moment. This is unlikely to continue after Brexit. Their numbers could fall a long way. In the short term though, they’re up – over 10% on last year – as EU students presumably try to capitalise on access to UK universities while they have it on favourable terms.

So both employers and universities will be at the door and on the front pages of newspapers making their case. Plus ca change. At least the crime rate is falling . . .

Perhaps it isn’t. New work by the Office for National Statistics suggests that online crime has been underestimated until now. At the very least, a shift in criminal activity online means law enforcement needs to shift too. That move is underway but there is still a big reform job for the Home Office to do – as well as everything else.

Well, the Prime Minister knows how tough it is at the Home Office. She was there for 6 years. Funding shouldn’t be a problem.

Let’s see. Every other Cabinet Minister will be expecting her to be soft on the Home Office’s budget. But that means being tougher on their budgets to realise the same plans.


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