Brexit and Migrant Women: What Does the Future Hold?

With Brexit still a very much undecided concept, and a second referendum, no-deal and Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement still very much on the table, it remains an uncertain time for many communities in the UK.
Several mainstream media outlets have commented on the impact new immigration proposals will have upon various factions of Britain – from certain marginalised communities to British business and industry.
But one community which is set to be hurt by both a no-deal, and a hard-deal Brexit is women. Women in the UK – more specifically BME and migrant women – appear to be particularly threatened by changes to immigration proposals outlined in the Government’s most recent White Paper.

European women in the UK

According to the guidelines proposed, Brexit will spell an end to Free Movement. This will mean that Europeans will no longer be able to freely travel and reside in the UK, or take up work here, without the appropriate visa or permit. As it stands, Britain’s current immigration system will therefore be extended to EU citizens – that’s according to the White Paper and the proposed deal being put forward by Theresa May. This would mean that all EU citizens would need to meet the requirements demanded of those from outside the EU, meaning they would most likely need to meet a minimum salary requirement of £30,000. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, this would likely still be implemented.

The industries which are set to be the most harmed by these changes are the retail and hospitality industries. According to a report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), both are heavily reliant on EU labour, with the hospitality sector suffering the most. According to the report, 96% of its workforce would no longer be eligible for a Work Visa under the current UK immigration guidelines, as their salaries would not reach the minimum salary requirement. Notably, both industries are heavily dominated by women, particularly in what would be deemed as ‘lower-skilled’, and low-pay roles. As a result, European women looking to work in the UK are likely to suffer more than men in the event of proposed Brexit scenarios going forward.

Equally, issues have also be found with the EU Settlement Scheme, which is being used to register all EU nationals in the UK in time for Brexit. To effectively register for EU settlement, an individual must prove that they have been ‘exercising their treaty rights’ during the time they have already spent in the UK. This phrase covers most scenarios and can include working, studying, being self-employed, being self-sufficient, and job-seeking. However, while the settlement scheme is relatively straightforward for individuals who have spent their time employed or enrolled in study, the scheme has presented problems for others. There have been reports of many unemployed and self-sufficient individuals experiencing difficulties with the scheme and being unable to show enough supporting evidence to prove they have been exercising their treaty rights in the UK. It is difficult to predict exact numbers on demographics for people who are self-sufficient or out of work, because of the nature of their status. However, it is thought that women are greatly impacted by this; and are more likely to be unemployed due to social constructs which depict women as the carers of their family and partners. As a result, European women in the UK who have been out of work and supported by savings, family or partners are at a higher risk of being discounted after Brexit.

BME women in the UK

Brexit has held the UK’s focus since the referendum in 2016, with an estimated £1.9 billion being spent on it since the result.

With vital women’s services – like health clinics, refuges and domestic abuse support centres – still underfunded and under considered, there is a real concern that Brexit is stealing much-needed attention and resources.
According to a SafeLives report, BME women in the UK are disproportionately impacted by specific forms of violence against women and girls, including ‘forced marriage’ and ‘honour-based’ violence. This is a real concerned, and something which is generally overlooked by the current immigration system in the UK.

Recent reports have found that there is a current trend in which British girls of colour are falling through the cracks of the UK’s immigration system. Many underage girls are being forced into marriages with adult men from overseas, who are then given a pass to the UK via a British Fiance Visa, or Spouse Visa.

Rather than simply applying the same, failing, immigration system to a further group of individuals, the UK Government first needs to address how issues like this can be fixed and avoided in order to protect women in the future.

Women in the UK

Women’s Budget Group (WBG) have raised further concerns about how Brexit’s impact on human rights legislation will ultimately harm women in Britain.

According to WBG’s argument, we are currently at a real risk of jeopardising the important steps we have made towards equal rights in the UK. The EU enforces most human rights regulations used in the UK. This includes laws which prohibit sex and pregnancy discrimination, and unequal pay.

It is vitally important that we continue to implement laws such as these if we leave the EU, if we want to continue to protect all women living, working and visiting the UK.

It is worth noting that these laws are set to be incorporated into British law according to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. However, in the event of a no-deal it is unclear if they will still be implemented in the same way. What’s more, with Britain no longer being governed by EU law, the UK is open to much more flexibility in terms of domestic laws. Because of this, WBG, along with other women’s rights groups, are concerned about what the future holds for women in the UK.

Whatever is eventually agreed by parliament, it is essential that MPs take their female constituents into account when making decisions; it is not only industry, business and the economy which is at risk, but the people of the UK too.

Luna Williams


Luna Williams is a political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration lawyers which provides free legal advice and support for victims of domestic abuse, asylum seekers and trafficking victims.