For centuries many Jersey people have left the Island to live elsewhere. Conversely, others from many countries have come to Jersey to work in different industries, or to seek refuge. Thousands of French Protestant Huguenots came here in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to escape persecution in France. Then Irish workers came, to escape famine, and helped to build St Catherine’s Breakwater. Later, after the Napoleonic wars, English settlers came in great numbers. Then it was the turn of the Bretons, who worked the fields, and Italians, who worked in the hospitality industry. More recently, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and many other nationals have made their homes here. Most have brought skills which were in demand, and added to the richness of our culture.
Population is a sensitive issue. It should not be allowed to rise too quickly, but there is no doubt that some immigration continues to be needed. With an ageing population, the economy needs more workers to keep the wheels turning. Without it, there would not be enough people with the right skills to run the health, education and other services. We also need creative and innovative people with fresh ideas to develop new industries.
The current legal rules are actually quite simple. We have the right to prevent any immigration, but we must not discriminate between nationals of EU member states. We could limit the number of French, German or other EU citizens coming to Jersey, but we would have to limit the number of British coming in too. They are all EU citizens. That is set out in Protocol 3 which governs our relationship with the EU. We cannot treat them differently.
Conversely, we all enjoy an unqualified right to travel to the UK and to live and work there. That has nothing to do with our Protocol. That is one of our constitutional privileges, conferred by Royal Charter long ago. Channel Islanders have no such right to travel freely and to settle in continental Europe. That is because Jersey and Guernsey are outside the EU. However, “Channel Islander” is narrowly defined in the Protocol and excludes anyone who has a parent or grandparent born in the UK. That provision means that most British citizens in the Channel Islands do in fact benefit from free movement in the EU. Only some 7000 Jersey residents fall within the definition of “Channel Islander” in the Protocol, and have the stamp in their passports, which prevents them from living and working in the EU without a permit.
When the UK leaves the EU, the Protocol will cease to have effect, and the different treatment of Channel Islanders will disappear, although whether any of us will then benefit from free movement in the EU remains to be seen. We will continue to enjoy the right to go to the UK and to move freely throughout the Common Travel Area (CTA), which includes the United Kingdom, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
What will happen so far as travel to and from the remaining countries of the EU is concerned? There is much speculation, but the UK government is holding its cards close to the chest. The Prime Minister announced some weeks ago that there would be controls on immigration which seems to mean the end of free movement of EU citizens to the UK. While we remain part of the CTA, such controls would apply to us and prevent free movement between the EU and Jersey.
Engagement with the UK government
Our officials have been in discussions with the UK government about the importance of maintaining arrangements that are as close as possible to the status quo. We want to be able to allow British and EU citizens to come to Jersey, subject to the restrictions of the Control of Housing and Work (Jersey) Law 2012. That is how we control immigration into Jersey.
Some argue that we should leave the CTA and assert control over our borders. This would enable us to decide whom to admit and whom to exclude, but would also mean many more immigration officers and stricter controls at the port. We would have to show our passports when entering the UK. Our choices will become clearer in due course.