The recent referendum result on our membership of the European Union has unfortunately created more questions than answers; especially when it comes to how our legal rights might be affected.
Citizens Advice Edinburgh is already seeing the impact of this, with a recent increase in the number of people seeking advice about immigration -related issues.
Legal rights will not change until new laws are made. If they do change in the future, there will be plenty of notice in advance.
One of our core aims as a charity is to ensure people do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities. Ever since Citizens Advice Edinburgh was founded in 1939, we have provided free, independent, impartial, and confidential advice on virtually any topic – and that goes for the potential implications of the referendum too.
Over the last year we have seen a steady increase in immigration-related queries. In June, when compared to the previous year’s monthly average, we saw both a 54 per cent increase in total immigration queries, and a massive 150 per cent increase in queries relating specifically to settling and remaining in the UK.
One client we assisted recently, an EU national himself, was in the process of applying for permanent leave to remain in the UK. He had already completed much of the paperwork, but requested one of our experienced advisers review his documents to double-check that everything was completed accurately. Our adviser was able to highlight some minor errors in his form, assist with corrections and confirm all of his paperwork was in order.
Cornelia Dyrlie, Immigration advice specialist with Citizens Advice Edinburgh, comments: “We have recently seen an increased number of clients such as this specifically wanting to secure their immigration status before any changes to the current rules. From what we now understand, it may be at least two years before these rules are changed.
In the short to medium term, we want to reassure anyone concerned about how they may be affected by the “Brexit” referendum result that their rights will not change overnight.
Legal rights relating to work, claiming benefits and life in the UK will not change unless new laws are passed – a process which takes time and considerable negotiation. We will be seeking to work closely with the representatives of the Scottish and UK governments to ensure the concerns of people living in Edinburgh are heard in those discussions.
For EU citizens already living in the UK, it is not necessary to take any immediate action. Changes to the law will be announced before they happen; anyone who may be affected should have time to prepare as appropriate. If you’re a UK citizen living in the EU or travelling to the EU, your rights won’t change yet either until new laws are made.
We won’t fully know the long-term effect of the Brexit vote on Scotland socially, politically or economically, for quite some time. It is, however, clear that there has been an immediate impact on the UK economy and the potential for increased austerity has already been predicted. Debt, employment and social security are among the most common issues that 13,600 people a year in Edinburgh come to us for advice about; it is likely that demand in these areas will only increase in the coming months.
As a charity, we rely on the support of our 280 dedicated volunteers, offering their time, skills and expertise free of charge to meet this demand. While working in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and others, we also rely on donations from the public.
Citizens Advice Edinburgh will soon be recruiting additional volunteer advisers to help us cope with ever-increasing need for advice, not just on immigration but on a wide variety of topics affecting the lives of Edinburgh’s Citizens.
Visit us online at www.cititzensadviceedinburgh.org.uk or find us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with how you can volunteer with us.
• Callum Ogden is Advice Services Coordinator at Citizens Advice Edinburgh