Free movement of people has never been far from the Brexit headlines and it is still a hot topic. In its latest e-communication to EU citizens in the UK, the government continues to insist that they don’t need to do anything now while we remain in the EU but many EU nationals naturally remain concerned about their rights and are keen to regularise their status as soon as possible.
At the same time, the government’s position on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration strategy and system remains up in the air, alarming for employers across many sectors reliant on migrant labour from the EU.
The agreement that the UK has reached with the EU on citizen’s rights seems straightforward:
All EU citizens and their families who are lawfully in the UK before 29 March 2019 will be entitled to stay and can apply for settled status to remain indefinitely in the UK once they have been here for 5 years;
Those arriving between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020 can stay but will have to register if staying for more than three months;
By 31 July 2021 it will be mandatory to hold settled status (or temporary residence) and
From 2021 new arrivals will be subject to the UK’s new system of immigration control.
EU citizens and their families are promised a system for applying for settled status which is streamlined, quick and user-friendly but whilst current rights for permanent residency under the relevant EU Directive are automatic, settled status can only be acquired on making an application and applicants must still meet the criteria of being lawfully in the UK for five years. Positive steps to apply will have to be taken and many EU citizens, for any number of reasons may fail to do this and could find themselves in the UK unlawfully and at risk of removal.
In any event, the system for applying for settled status will not open until later this year and will not be fully operational until 30 March 2019. Those who have already embarked on the cumbersome process of applying for permanent residence documentation may want to continue. This may seem counterintuitive but holding permanent residency documentation will avoid the need for assessment later.
There is perhaps even more uncertainty about the UK government’s future, post-Brexit immigration policy. Many sectors have been vocal about the impact that ending free movement of EU citizens would have and there have been calls for EU citizens to be given some kind of preferential treatment after Brexit. Unfortunately, the government’s white paper on post-Brexit immigration has been delayed until the Migration Advisory Commission’s Report, is published and will inform the government’s final proposals. It is now expected in autumn, but not withstanding, immigration is set to continue to dominate the Brexit headlines.
Lynne Marr is a partner in Brodies’ employment team