What does 'regaining control of our borders' in Brexit campaigns actually mean for non-EU immigrants to the UK? Does it have any bearing at all on this group of people?

  • 1
    If anything it would increase immigration from non-EU countries, as the UK has a skills shortage at the moment. So we can focus on allowing people into UK which fit the criteria.
    – k1308517
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 13:41
  • @k1308517 any reference for the skill shortage that you mentioned?
    – adipro
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


Actually, it does not affect non-EU immigrants at all.

EU laws grant that nationals of EU countries have the right of residence in other EU countries. This is not a "free for all" right, though; after a few months of residence they have to show they have a way to sustain themselves (v.g. a work) or may be deported.

People who are not national of EU countries (the usual expression is third country national) are covered by the Schengen agreement. The Schengen Treaty led to the abolition of internal borders between the signatories. When a third country national is granted a Schengen visa (by any country in the agreement), the visa is 1 valid to visit all of the Schengen countries (although you are supposed to apply to the country at which you will be staying more). In exchange, there is a common policy for issuing such visas2 and the information of applicants is shared between the Schengen states3.

The question is that the UK (and Ireland) got an opt-out of the Schengen agreements, that allowed them to be part of the EU and not of the Schengen Treaty. So in the UK, for third party nationals, visas issued under the Schengen Treaty are not valid.

So, the rules for allowing third party nationals inside the UK are already under control of the UK government, either by specifying for each third party national which ones are free to enter without visa, which ones can enter with certain visas4, and which are the requirements to get an UK issued visa.

A couple of links:



What does European Union "freedom of movement" mean, and how much can individual countries restrict intra-EU immigration? (this is about the EU nationals).

1 Or should be, as some national legislations fail to fully comply with the Schengen agreement.

2 Due to the refugee crisis there has been some talks to create just a single entity for issuing Schengen visas, but at the time of writting there is not a solid initiative towards that.

3 IIRC some states might still issue "national" visas that are valid for their territory but not for any other country; but I am not fully sure about that.

4 As Bregalad points, there is at least one situation in which the UK allows entry with a visa issued by another country; it looks like Indian and Chinese nationals may enter the UK using some visas issues by Ireland (and viceversa). However, the treaty governing this is not related at all to the Schengen Treaty or to the UK being a member of the EU.

  • EU members and their post-colonial responsibilities present particular problems for declared EU aims such as the removal of internal borders: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Unless and until they manage to fulfil their aims, terms such as 'non-EU' are pretty woolly.
    – Daria
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 13:42
  • All Schengen can indeed issue visas valid only on their territory (in very limited circumstances). Those are called “limited territorial validity” or LTV visas in the relevant EU regulations.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 22:40
  • @Daria I am not sure exactly what you have in mind but I don't think the EU (its institutions or member states) cares at all about that, actually. It's only a problem for the territories in question and the people who live there, not really for declared EU aims which never were about them but only about the European mainland… Some of these territories simply aren't in the EU, nothing woolly about that. (Remember than when the Treaty of Rome was signed, France still controlled Algeria and was fighting a war there).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 22:51
  • Incidentally, when it comes to immigration, freedom of movement, etc. the term of art in EU circles is “third country national”.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 22:53
  • One last comment (sorry SJuan76!) but the UK recognises some Irish visas, so it's not entirely true that “only UK issued visas are valid”.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 22:54

Contrary to the other answers/comments here, the actual answer to this question is that it makes a real difference.

Brexit means that the laws governing immigration (from EU and from non-EU states) will be made solely in London, whereas for the past 40 years they have been made mainly in Brussels.

"Control of our borders" includes the repatriation of the legal powers to control all entry into the UK, i.e. entry from all other countries.

Non-EU immigrants can obtain rights in other EU states, i.e. other than the UK, and then are entitled to enter the UK as EU citizens, under EU freedom of movement rules. This may take 5 years of settlement in, say, Germany -- but this became a significant problem once millions of refugees a year began being accepted into Germany.

It is not enough to say 'it can't happen because of Schengen'. Once a migrant has acquired German citizenship in short order, and become a "German", he/she/they can not then be refused entry into the UK if we are still afflicted with the freedom of movement rules that force us to accept entry by all EU citizens.

People who are not national of EU countries : This is certainly the nub of it, because this qualification ceases to have effect once the German government grants German nationality to the millions of immigrants queuing up to claim it.

  • 3
    Non-EU immigration to the UK has always been controlled by London; do you have any source supporting your assertion to the contrary? This is true even more than it is in most of the EU, since the UK opted out of the Schengen area. Do you have any figures supporting the implication that significant numbers of EU/EEA immigrants in the UK are former refugees? Or even naturalized EU citizens? I suspect the numbers are negligible.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 15:46
  • 1
    @phoog Although there is a pretense that non-EU immigration into the UK is controlled in London, in reality it plainly is not, because once Germany has accepted for immigration persons who would not have been accepted by the UK, and Germany has granted them citizenship, as EU citizens they cannot be kept out of the UK. There is no point pretending that this is not happening: the UK only records, at most, that the entry is by a German. There is no way of determining whether he/she was a German last year. But Germany is accepting non-EU migrants in hundreds of thousands.
    – Ed999
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 0:48
  • 6
    How many of these persons who are not acceptable to the UK have subsequently moved to the UK after naturalizing in Germany? I'm not pretending it isn't happening; I'm just asking for evidence that it actually has happened (let alone in significant numbers). It's rather arrogant to think that significant numbers of people prize life in the UK so much more highly than in Germany that they would live in Germany for 7 or 8 years (not 5) and learn German just so they can move to the UK. Also, what's to stop similar people from doing the same through Ireland after Brexit?
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 3:14
  • 1
    More to the point, the assertion that a German national holding a German passport isn't German because they're not ethnically German is profoundly racist.
    – pjc50
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 10:38

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