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Significant changes in the work permit regulations in Uzbekistan

The Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan on March 25 approved a new procedure for employers to obtain a license and confirm foreign nationals. Changes to the framework including a broadening of the definition of “employer,” a more streamlined process, a significant increase in fees, and limiting three-year confirmations to certain categories of persons.

Read the complete Dentons article here.

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Significant changes in the work permit regulations in Uzbekistan

Measures to ensure compliance with the rules of stay in Russia

Russian Passport

We draw your attention to the entry into force on January 16, 2019, of Federal Law No. 216-FZ of July 19, 2018 on Amendments to Article 16 of the Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation. This law considerably changes the area of migration relations that had been considered the least formalized. It involves measures for the foreign citizen to comply with the rules of stay in Russia (such as leaving Russia on time at the end of the period of stay and complying with the stated purpose of the visit), the liability for violation of which was previously imposed on the foreign citizen.

The new rules set forth that the inviting party (i.e., the organization or individual who invited the foreign citizen to Russia) is responsible for taking measures to ensure the foreign citizen complies with the rules of stay in Russia. The list of required measures and how they are applied is to be further determined by the RF Government. The RF Government resolution setting forth these measures has yet to be published; however, the draft resolution can be viewed here. According to the draft, it is assumed that the inviting party will have to take the following set of measures:

  1. Serve the foreign citizen a notice again signature that the foreign citizen needs to comply with the purpose of entry and warning the foreign citizen of liability for failure to comply, as soon he/she enters the country. The form of the notice is approved by the Ministry of the Interior of Russia.
  2. Provide the foreign citizen with the conditions he/she needs to comply with the stated purpose of entry (e.g., employing a foreigner who entered the country on a work visa, or arranging business negotiations for a foreigner who entered the country on a business visa).
  3. Stay in contact and correspond with the foreigner.
  4. Inform the Ministry of the Interior of Russia if it is discovered that the foreign citizen has not left Russia at the set time or if the foreign citizen fails to comply with the rules of stay, and also if contact is lost with the foreign citizen. The form(s) for doing this is/are approved by the Ministry of the Interior of Russia.
  5. Remind the foreign citizen in advance (at least 10 days before the visa expires) of the need to leave Russia. The reminder: (i) is sent to the foreign citizen by registered letter with notification or by email with confirmation that it has been read, or (ii) is personally delivered to the foreign citizen against signature.
  6. Assist the foreign citizen in overcoming various circumstances preventing him/her from leaving the Russian Federation on time (e.g., not having money to leave, loss of documents).

As stated above, this draft RF Government resolution with list of measures to ensure an invited foreign citizen follows the rules of stay in Russia has not yet been published. It is anticipated that the RF Government will publish the resolution in the near future. We will provide information about this on our website.

The Code of Administrative Offenses (Article 18.9(2) of the Code of Administrative Offenses) establishes the inviting party’s liability for failing to take the above-mentioned measures. This liability is in the form of administrative fines on the officer and on the organization of up to RUB 50,000 (on the officer) and up to RUB 500,000 (on the organization).

Considering the above, at this stage we recommend taking action to make a list of all foreign citizens your company has invited and who hold currently valid visas (whether work, business or guest visas). This will make it possible to then take all of the measures listed above to ensure they comply with the rules of stay in Russia.

Click here to read Dentons article.

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Measures to ensure compliance with the rules of stay in Russia

Does USCIS interpret its regulations consistently and correctly?

Non-immigration case before SCOTUS could change immigration law

In December of last year, the US Supreme Court agreed to review Kisor v. Wilkie, a case that could have a major impact on immigration law. At issue is the degree of deference a court must accord an agency’s interpretation of its own ambiguous regulation.

How much deference courts should afford agencies in interpreting their own regulations is a central question in administrative law. It determines how much an agency is allowed to stray from the original wording of a regulation it promulgates before it becomes necessary to issue a new regulation.  

It is dangerous to grant agencies unfettered discretion based on the assumption that their personnel will wisely and fairly carry out their duties. Changing presidential administrations often result in new agency directors and the likelihood that political beliefs will change how existing regulations are interpreted.  

If an agency seeking to revise a regulation follows the legal requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), there will be notice of proposed rulemaking and a comment period to identify any issues. There’s also a published regulatory history from which to glean meaning and intent. Too often, however, federal agencies, rather than comply with the APA, seek to regulate through policy interpretation memoranda.

On its face, Kisor v. Wilkie has nothing to do with immigration law. In 2006, James Kisor a Vietnam War veteran reopened a claim for disability benefits, citing new evidence that supported a diagnosis of PTSD. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) agreed with the diagnosis and approved the 2006 claim, it declined to grant him retroactive benefits based on his initial 1983 claim, asserting that he had failed to present “relevant” service records required under VA regulations governing reconsideration of benefits claims. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit deferred to the VA’s interpretation of its own regulation and found in the agency’s favor.

In the context of immigration, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the federal agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. Under current case law, significant deference is granted to USCIS’ interpretation of its own regulations. This deference has allowed the agency to change certain visa programs over time, often without issuing new regulations but instead relying on policy memoranda to implement what increasingly seems to be an agenda driven by White House politics rather than good policy.

For example, President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” 2017 executive order, which, among other things, directed DHS, in coordination with other agencies, to review immigration-related policies, led to USCIS modifying many of its immigration policies in 2017 and in 2018, oftentimes by the mere publication of a memo or a press release rather than by going through the APA’s required process. Dentons’ immigration team covered several of these:

  • In October 2017, USCIS issued a policy memorandum reversing the burden of proof and eliminating the prior practice of deferring to previous approvals in the adjudication of petitions to renew H, L and other non-immigrant visas. The idea was that USCIS would accept the original determination as correct and would not review all the visa requirements again. With the elimination of this practice, visa holders merely petitioning for an extension now have to prove every criteria applicable to their visa category, even though USCIS already decided that they met such criteria. Effectively, extensions now require the same level of documentation as the original petition. This change has led to extensions being denied, thus creating confusion among alien workers.
  • In April 2018, USCIS updated its webpage for Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT), providing that the training experience of STEM OPT workers may not be conducted at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers.
  • In May 2018, the USCIS changed the way it calculates the accrual of unlawful presence for nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors (F, J and M visas, including F-2, J-2 and M-2 dependents). The changes increased the likelihood that individuals in these nonimmigrant visa categories would have problems with future immigration benefits. (See our previous posting “Stricter unlawful presence rules for foreign students and exchange visitors”).
  • In May 2018, USCIS revised its Policy Manual, announcing it would no longer count the jobs created for US workers through tenant occupancy of EB5 properties, which effectively reduced the amount of immigrant investor funds available to create jobs for US workers. (See our previous posting “No more EB5 job creation through tenant-occupancy models: New USCIS policy reduces availability of immigrant investor funds to create jobs for American”).
  • In November 2018, USCIS published a new policy memorandum explaining how to calculate the 12 months of employment abroad, a key requirement under the L-1 intracompany transfer visa program. (See our previous posting “How to count to 12: USCIS clarifies L1A visa requirements”).
  • In November 2018, DHS published its mid-year regulatory agenda, which included a proposed rule to revoke the H-4 employment authorization final rule. If adopted, the proposed rule is expected to become effective in the first half of 2019 and would impact all of the more than 100,000 individuals currently holding an H-4 employment authorization document. (See our previous posting “Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families”).

While USCIS’ frequent and often far-reaching policy changes created lots of business for lawyers in 2018, the agency’s unpredictability and inconsistent application of the law has created a tremendous burden on US employers and their foreign-national employees and families, as well as for US business developers seeking foreign investment and foreign investors and families.  

Critics of the deference principle have argued that it effectively allows agencies such as the USCIS to write overbroad and substantively vague rules with the expectation that they can fill in any gaps later using interpretive rules, unchecked by notice and comments. They are urging the Supreme Court to reverse the current precedent favoring judicial deference, which would force USCIS to issue clearer and more detailed regulations, thus providing  more agency transparency and accountability. The Supreme Court will hear Kisor v. Wilkie in the spring—oral arguments have not yet been scheduled—and will likely make a ruling later this year.

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Does USCIS interpret its regulations consistently and correctly?

Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

Time appears to be almost up for more than 100,000 foreign citizens working in the United States under an Obama-era special authorization for spouses of foreign workers here on the H-1B visa.

When Congress failed legislatively to address the lengthy wait times for many professionals and their families to be granted resident status, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2015, under the Obama administration, issued a regulation to allow H-4 visa spouses of qualified H-1B professionals to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD). Some members of Congress complained that the executive branch was overstepping its authority by making law—which is Congress’s job—and the regulation was the subject of much debate during the last presidential election. Now the Trump administration is seeking to make good on the President’s campaign promise to eliminate EADs for H-4 spouses.

This change especially impacts US employers of people born in India.

The reason why Indian-born professionals are impacted is because there are numerical limits on the number of green cards granted each year. To promote the diversity of new immigrants to the US, there are quota limits on the place of birth. No more than 7 percent of the total number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas available in a fiscal year may be issued to natives of any one independent country. As the demand for Indian-born professionals is far greater than the annual supply of green cards under the quota, this has created a backlog.

In 2018 for instance, the backlog of Indian-born professionals waiting their turn to get a green card was well in excess of a half million individuals. As a result, it now takes many years for an Indian-born professional to receive his or her green card. As a consequence, Indian-born professionals comprise the bulk of H-4 EAD holders.

Under the current regulation, an H-4 spouse can request an EAD if the H-1B professional is the beneficiary of either an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition, or a Department of Labor alien employment certification application or employment-based immigrant visa petition filed at least 365 days prior to the end of the sixth year of the professional’s H-1B status.

In April 2017, President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which, among other things, directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with other agencies, to review H-1B-related policies. The H-4 EAD regulation was one of the policies reviewed and the result was its proposed elimination.

US employers rely on H-1B professionals to make up for the shortage of qualified American professionals while keeping jobs in the US. CEOs of major US companies, sent a letter to DHS opposing the plan to eliminate the H-4 EAD. The letter pointed out that “[t]hese spouses are often highly skilled in their own rights,” and “revoking their US work authorization will likely cause high-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the United States.

These US employers found some support in Congress. Senators Kamala D. Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to DHS and USCIS opposing rescission of the H-4 EAD, pointing out that the proposed change would disproportionately impact South Asian women (in 2017, 94 percent of H-4 EAD were women and 93 percent were from India).

But the administration has not changed its position. In November 2018, DHS published its mid-year regulatory agenda, which included a proposed rule to revoke the H-4 employment authorization final rule. DHS stated that “[s]ome U.S. workers would benefit from this proposed rule by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold, as the proposed rule would no longer allow H-4 workers to enter the labor market early.” With record low unemployment levels and US employers already complaining of recruiting problems, it is unclear where the DHS thinks employers will find these US workers.

The new rule, if adopted, is expected to become effective in the first half of 2019 and would impact all 100,000+ individuals currently holding an H-4 EAD. Researchers also estimate that the proposed rule will affect entire families, including the H-1B professionals themselves, because many will not be able to afford to live on one income if their dependent spouse is forced to abandon his or her career. This is especially true in areas such as Seattle and the Silicon Valley, which employ high numbers of H-1B workers and have a high cost of living. Entire families may leave the US, taking their job skills to other countries to compete with their former employers—whose only options to remain competitive may be to outsource the jobs or set up their own offshore facilities. Nearshoring to Canada has become increasingly popular, due to the relatively lower cost of doing business there and proximity to the US.

The direct cost of each failed expatriate assignment is estimated to range from $250,000 to $1 million, according to researchers. More important, the departure of these highly skilled workers represents a brain drain and a significant loss of talent for most companies.

Dentons helps employers develop strategies to recruit the world’s best and brightest to fill posts in the US and abroad. For more information, please contact the authors or your Dentons lawyer.

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Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

Home Office publishes details of settlement scheme for EU citizens

EU citizens will be able to apply for settled status in three easy steps and for less than the price of a passport, under plans outlined by the Immigration Minister today. For more information, please contact your Dentons lawyer. For the full text see the Gov.UK website.

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Home Office publishes details of settlement scheme for EU citizens

The travails of the ‘Windrush generation’ and the lessons for EU nationals

UK Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes has set out the government’s commitment to support the “Windrush generation,” immigrants who migrated legally from British colonies or former colonies in the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973. The term “Windrush” derives from the name of the ship, the Empire Windrush, that brought the first arrivals in Britain’s post-war drive to fill a labor shortage. The ship carried 492 passengers, many of them children, from the Commonwealth country of Jamaica. Under the British Nationality Act, they and thousands who followed after, enjoyed British citizenship and full rights of entry and settlement. In 1962, however, British law changed to end the automatic right of entry and, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as the Caribbean colonies gained independence—and their people different citizenship—a series of British laws further tightened immigration controls.

The story of Caribbean-born Britons took an inauspicious turn in 2012. Changes to immigration law that required documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, left people fearful about their status. As it turned out, their fears were justified. Recent reports in the British press about longtime legal residents of West Indian and Caribbean ancestry losing their jobs, being denied medical care, being evicted, and even detained and threatened with deportation because they could not prove that they had lived in the country since before 1973 produced a public outcry and, on April 17, 2018, an apology from Prime Minister Theresa May.

The current “hostile environment”—aimed at making it difficult for illegal immigrants to settle in the UK—has meant that many people living in the UK legally are being asked to document their right to stay in the UK when trying to access healthcare, applying for a job, opening a bank account, or renting a property, and some of the Windrush generation who arrived here as children are finding it difficult to do so because they have never had a need to update their passports and immigration documents.

Their plight, however, is not dissimilar to that of EU nationals, who must also think about what documentation they can produce to prove their right to remain in the UK. There are thousands of EU nationals who do not hold passports and/or do not have a paper trail to evidence their nationality or time spent in the UK. Without such documents, they will find it difficult to meet the requirements to apply for residency documentation confirming their status. Such EU nationals will feel the same level of anxiety and experience the same hostile environment that the Windrush generation are contending with. However, for EU nationals there’s the added pressure of having to complete their application within six months of December 31, 2020, being the end of the implementation period. Those who fail to do so enter uncharted territory, as there is no information at present on what will happen to EU nationals who haven’t obtained new residency documents.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, identified this very issue when speaking to The Telegraph for an article that appeared on April 18 on how the UK government’s handling of its Windrush citizens has led to fears that EU nationals could face similar problems. Verhofstadt said, “This could be worrying for millions of EU citizens in the UK who may fear that they could face similar treatment after Brexit.” He added that he expects that MEPs will be looking for safeguards for their constituents.

The UK government has accepted that the Windrush citizens are entitled to reside in the UK and to access public services, and has asserted its commitment to working with any individuals who do not have documentation to prove their right to be in the UK. A new dedicated Home Office team will help such individuals gather the evidence necessary to prove that they have been living or working in the UK, and when such evidence is gathered, will endeavor to resolve cases within two weeks and at no cost to the applicant. Unfortunately, however, while the Brexit talks have gone more smoothly as of late, there is not the same commitment between the UK government and EU governments to help EU nationals. Given the current climate of uncertainty, we are advising EU nationals and employers of EU nationals on their best course of action.

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The travails of the ‘Windrush generation’ and the lessons for EU nationals

EB5 immigrant investor visas are available again

EB5 immigrant visas of all types are once again available to investors who create job opportunities for American workers. The Omnibus Spending Bill signed by the president on March 23 included the extension of the US immigrant investor EB5 regional center program to the end of September 2018.

The US State Department’s April 2018 Visa Bulletin will be revised soon to show that EB5 regional center immigrant visas are immediately available for all countries of birth, except mainland China, which is expected to have the same waiting period as the EB5 non-regional center program.

Media around the world has been warning readers of the demise of the EB5 regional center program. The US Embassy at Hanoi, Vietnam, announced on March 20 that no EB5 regional center immigrant visas would be issued after March 23. Now that advisory is no longer effective and immigrant visa appointments will continue to be scheduled at US embassies and consulates.

EB5 refers to the US employment-based fifth preference immigrant visa category. EB5 allows an investor, spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 to obtain resident status in return for creating at least 10 full-time equivalent jobs for American workers through a business investment. The EB5 non-regional center program considers only jobs for workers directly employed at the business investment, while the EB5 regional center program also counts the larger number of indirect and induced jobs created as calculated by government-approved economic models.

Both types of EB5 generally require a US$1,000,000 investment, but a US$500,000 investment can qualify if the business is located in a targeted employment area. Such areas either have an unemployment rate 150 percent above the national average or meet the legal definition of rural.

There are proposals to raise these EB5 target investment levels, which have not changed since being set in 1990. Most experts expect substantial increases, along with other changes to EB5 regulations, but no one knows when this will happen. As a result, immigrants may want to act quickly to invest and file their EB5 immigrant visa petition as soon as possible. They should especially be sure to do so before September 30, 2018, when the EB5 regional center program is next set to expire.

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EB5 immigrant investor visas are available again

Stretched resources: immigration and gender pay equity

Two stories in the UK headlines today relate to stretched resources: The Home Office preparing its immigration system for life after Brexit, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) enforcing employers to publish information on their gender pay gap.

Immigration system

According to the British House of Commons, it is unlikely the UK will have an immigration system in place when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. The government has not published its future policy. This is causing distress for EU citizens living in Britain, and for UK businesses that rely on EU citizens.

An estimated three million EU citizens will need to register as having the right to be in the UK. Border force agencies will struggle to carry out checks on EU citizens arriving in the country. Agencies like Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and other departments of the Home Office will also feel the impact of the extra caseload. These services are already finding it difficult to cope, resulting in occasional poor decision-making. Dentons has worked with clients to help overcome these poor decisions.

The UK government is due to publish a white paper on immigration policy; already postponed from last autumn, it seems unlikely to see release before March 2019. Ministers working on the white paper have said the delay is to consider the Migration Advisory Committee’s report due in September 2018. Dentons contributed to this report, so we hope to see the collated views of our clients reflected in the future shape of UK immigration rules.

Gender pay equity

By April 4, 2018 companies with 250 or more employees are required to report the gender pay gap in their workforces. Questions have already been raised about whether the gender pay gap regulations under the Equality Act have teeth to motivate business to properly comply. On top of this, it seems likely the EHRC will struggle with having sufficient resources to enforce the regulations.

However, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath has distanced the commission from the responsibility of ensuring compliance. She has described the EHRC to the Financial Times as a “strategic enforcer” that looks at novel points of law”, and “at cases which will clarify the law”, and “where impact lies.” Therefore, the EHRC does not see itself as taking on all breaches of the Equality Act.

This bears out in the EHRC’s budget information: The government is not allocating additional resources for work on gender pay reporting. The EHRC will seek to increase its budget if many companies fail to comply with gender pay reporting. Having already seen its funding cut by 25 percent in the 2016–2020 spending review, a crystal ball is probably not needed to predict how any request for a budget increase will be answered.

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Stretched resources: immigration and gender pay equity

Home Affairs Committee issues report: Building consensus around immigration policy

The Home Affairs Committee consists of 11 Members of Parliament drawn from the three largest political parties (Conservative, Labour and the Scottish National). It has been chaired by Yvette Cooper MP (Labour) since 2016.

The Committee is currently managing a number of immigration-related inquiries. The most relevant to business immigration are:

  • Home Office’s capacity to deliver immigration services post-Brexit (launched October 5, 2017), which explores the capacity of the Home Office to meet the demands that Brexit will present, such as whether it can process applications from the 3 million EU nationals currently residing in the UK. Evidence has been gathered and we are currently awaiting the Committee’s report.
  • Building a consensus around immigration policy (launched October 17, 2017), which looks into the public perception of immigration and how the government might go about achieving greater consensus on immigration policy.

On January 15, 2017, the Committee published its report on the latter topic: “Immigration policy: basis for building consensus.” Click the UK Parliament website to read (i) the report summary, (ii) the report conclusions and recommendations and (iii) the full report.

To summarize the report’s main themes:

  • There is a lack of trust in official data, targets and decision-making on immigration policy.
  • Rules are complex and hard to understand, and there is concern that they are not being enforced.
  • Stronger coordination is needed between immigration policy and labor market policy.
  • Action is needed to address the impact of immigration, including appropriate investment in housing, public services and integration plans.

As the saying goes, perception is truth. While immigration rules are arguably easier to understand now than prior to the introduction of the points-based system, if public perception is the opposite then there is work still to be done.

If we look at the last 15 years there have been a number of events that have had an impact on the perception of immigration, such as the global financial crisis, the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe and, most recently, the referendum on exiting the EU.

The report makes a number of compelling recommendations to address the public’s negative perception of immigration. With inevitable changes due to Brexit we have an opportunity to develop an immigration system that will be viewed positively by the wider population.

Some of the recommendations that are most relevant to business immigration and employers are:

  • Scrap the current net migration target and replace it with a new framework of targets and controls based on evidence.
  • Publish an annual migration report on migration flows, the economic contribution from migration and the measures taken by the government to manage impacts and pressures.
  • Link immigration policy for work purposes to strategy for improving investment in domestic skills and training with the target of reducing dependency on migrant labor.

Assess whether over reliance on migrant labor in some low-skilled jobs is due to poor pay, terms and conditions, and what restrictions and controls are needed to prevent undercutting and exploitation.

 

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Home Affairs Committee issues report: Building consensus around immigration policy

Immigration briefing papers

 

This week saw the publication of two briefing papers—one by Bernard Ryan, Professor of Migration Law at the University of Leicester (for the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA); and the other by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR)—that make significant contributions to the ongoing conversation on immigration policy, particularly in light of the inevitable changes due to Brexit.

The ILPA briefing paper, “Who will remain after Brexit? Ensuring protection for all persons resident under EU law,” identifies gaps concerning both EU citizens and third-country nationals who, potentially, will be negatively impacted by Brexit as they are not included in the government’s current thinking. These groups include, for example:

  • EU citizens and family members resident outside the UK at the point of Brexit who have a history of residence in the UK and may need or desire to resume residence in the UK in the future; and
  • EU nationals whose primary residence is outside of the UK but who, for either business/work or personal reasons, have a second place of residence in the UK. Post Brexit, these individuals may fail the required residency requirements to obtain residence or settled status, given their high absences from the UK, and instead be treated as visitors to the UK, a status that would obviously not permit them to work in the UK.

A summary of the paper, together with the full version, is available here.

The IPPR paper, “An immigration strategy for the UK: Six proposals to manage migration for economic success,” addresses the need to link immigration with the strategic priorities of the UK, particularly economic ones, in a post-Brexit world, and to understand the role that immigration plays in meeting these. The six proposals referred to in the title are:

This paper serves to remind us of the enormous challenge facing policymakers as they seek to ensure that all affected parties are captured in their thinking and that adequate protections are included in both the withdrawal agreement and future UK immigration legislation.

  1. Immigration strategy should clearly differentiate between types of immigration.
  2. Immigration strategy should actively address geographical imbalances in the economy.
  3. Immigration strategy should be designed to spur innovation.
  4. Immigration strategy should forge a new compact between employers and government, as a means to achieving a high-pay, high-productivity economy.
  5. Immigration strategy should support the UK’s trade balance.
  6. Immigration strategy should promote equality and integration.

In the lead-up to what will inevitably be an overhaul of the immigration system due to Brexit, the IPPR paper reminds us of the opportunity this brings, and the need to be active in the ongoing immigration debate.

The full report is available to download at the IPPR website. (The four-page summary is well worth a read.)

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Immigration briefing papers