Immigration policy is decided at the national level. But since the EU referendum brought the prospect of a wide-ranging overhaul of UK immigration policy, several proposals have emerged for devolving power over parts of a post-Brexit immigration policy to the constituent nations and regions of the UK. This report examines the economic, political and operational arguments that have been advanced both in favour and against such proposals.
Perhaps the most common practical question about subnational visa proposals is whether they are feasible. That is, whether they would be difficult to enforce because a region with more liberal policies could create a ‘back door’ into the rest of the country.
This potential criticism is arguably the easiest to address. Regional visas can be designed so that it illegal to work in other regions. People who are willing to work illegally in the UK do not need a ‘back door’ because a more convenient ‘front door’ exists in the form of tourist visas or visa-free travel. Moreover, regional visas could be attached to a specific job, like the current Tier 2 visas for non-EU citizens. The task of enforcing job-specific regional visas would in principle be very similar to the current system, where workers are only authorised to work for a particular employer. Tier 2 visas do not appear to have caused particular enforcement concerns. While subnational work visas would complicate the management of migration policy for the Home Office, the argument that they would be “unenforceable” is not well founded.
The question for policymakers and the public is therefore not whether subnational visas can be introduced but whether they should be. This report makes no policy recommendations in this regard. Instead, it examines the main trade-offs regional visas entail and explains the considerations that policymakers would need to assess in order to decide whether regional visas are a desirable option for the UK.