Despite the UK government announcing in June that none of the three million EU citizens currently residing in the UK would be asked to leave – and clear confirmation that permanent right to remain is available to those having lived and worked in the UK for over five years – there remains an atmosphere of insecurity and fear.
Part of the uncertainty relates to speculation that the current permanent residency system utilized by the Home Office is deemed not fit for purpose. One of the campaigning groups acting as a voice for EU citizens is ‘the3million’. It believes that the Home Office would need 47 years to process all the permanent residency applications from EU citizens. It is currently calling for the UK government to create a new Permanent Residency process that will enable EU citizens living in the UK to, ‘Claim their rights and remove the risk of up to two million citizens being left undocumented by the time the UK leaves the EU.’
In addition to concerns over the government’s ability to process up to three million permanent residency visas before April 2019, EU citizens in Britain have been told that they now need to register for post-Brexit status. It goes without saying that the registration process itself does not entitle EU citizens to residency. Yet, critics such as the3million, believe that many people will not bother to register through fear that, ‘It will be used to foul their applications.’ However, the good news is that the registration process is not linked to the current permanent residency process – a lengthy and often arduous process that requires significant paperwork and fees.
The continued uncertainty is not just a worry for hard working EU citizens who want to continue working and living in the UK – it is potentially bad for businesses that hire EU citizens and whose businesses rely on them. The public sector may be disproportionately affected – official figures show that the number of nurses from the EU registering to practice in the UK has fallen by 96% in less than a year. In April 2017 only 46 European nurses arrived in Britain – compared with 1,304 in the month after the Brexit vote.
Whilst emotions run high and the mainstream media (most of which is against Brexit) press Ministers for ever-greater clarity, EU citizens and their employers would be well advised to keep calm. Despite the palpable climate of anger towards the British government in almost every area of policy, those wishing to truly understand how their futures may pan-out should look at the facts and cut through the highly emotional media hype.
To date, the British government has laid out a very clear set of objectives that should provide clarity for employers in the private and public sector. The government’s ‘offer’ to EU citizens states clearly that:
- People who have been continuously living in the UK for 5 years will be able to apply to stay indefinitely by getting ‘settled status’. That means these citizens will be free to live here and have access to public funds and services
- People who arrived before the cut-off date, but won’t have been in the UK for five years when the country leaves the EU, will be able to apply to stay until they have reached the five-year threshold. They can then also apply for settled status.
- People who arrive after the cut-off date will be able to apply for permission to remain after the UK leaves the EU, under the future immigration arrangements for EU citizens.
- Family dependants who are living with or join EU citizens before the UK’s exit will also be able to apply for settled status after 5 years in the UK. In these cases, the cut-off date won’t apply.
We must remember that no nation has ever left the European Union.
This process is new to all stakeholders and there is no template – this process is history in the making. We should also reflect on the fact that whilst the UK government has made public its plans for EU citizens, the EU has not yet done so. The policy paper released by the UK government represents a comprehensive new status for EU citizens under UK law. All EU citizens – particularly those who continue to live in fear of deportation – should arm themselves with the facts as they currently stand.
We should also remember that the United Kingdom is a sovereign nation that has an obligation to create a considered, fair immigration policy – one that respects the rights of all those who currently live in the country, work hard and pay their taxes. They should be afforded time to do this. With this in mind, the summer recess may be a suitable time to calmly reflect on what has happened so far – and perhaps take a well-earned holiday in one of the EU’s warmer countries.