As the UK moves into the next phase of its Brexit negotiations, the estimated 2.38 million people from EU countries who are working in the UK will no doubt be questioning what will happen to their status once we leave the EU. This is certainly the case in schools who are increasingly relying on teachers from outside the UK to fill the skills gap.
There have been a number of proposals put forward since 29 March 2017, the date on which the UK triggered Article 50 and the 2-year negotiation before we are due to officially leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Here is a summary of what we know and what EU workers in the UK can do now to protect their status.
The current position
Currently, nothing has changed – all nationals of European Economic Area (EEA) countries still have the right to live, work and study in the UK – you just need to show your ID card or passport to your employer to prove this (the only exception is Croatian nationals who may require a Registration Certificate granting them special work authorisation to be employed here).
If you are an EEA national who is a qualified person (by studying or working or by being self-employed, self-sufficient or a job seeker in the UK) you can apply for a Registration Certificate to evidence your right to remain in the UK, although this is not mandatory. After living in the UK for 5 years as a qualified person you can apply for a document evidencing Permanent Residence (PR). This, again, is not mandatory but you do need it if you want to apply for British citizenship. Once you have had PR for 12 months you can apply for British citizenship and be a dual national, if your home country permits this.
Registering during the 2 year grace period
Based on the Government’s proposals, we expect that EEA nationals will need to “regularise” their status in the UK following Brexit by applying for residence documentation. Your rights in the UK will depend on whether you entered the UK before or after the “Specified Date” – this will be a set date between 29 March 2017 and the date we withdraw from the EU and is yet to be announced, but it may be 29 March 2019.
There is expected to be a 2-year “grace period” from the date of exit during which you and your family members must register to prove your ongoing right to be here. During the grace period, your right to live, study and work in the UK will be the same as now, if you entered the UK before the Specified Date, but you will need to register and if you do not you will no longer have permission to remain in the UK from 29 March 2021.
We don’t know what the registration process will involve but the Government is promising a streamlined online process with the cost being no more than the cost of a UK passport. Unlike those applying for a Registration Certificate or PR now, you will not have to demonstrate Comprehensive Sickness Insurance if you are self-sufficient or a student.
You (and your family) will need to register online by 29 March 2021. If you have lived in the UK for 5 years or more then you should be able to apply for settled status, whereas if you have been here for less than 5 years you will need to apply for temporary status (and then settled status once you hit the 5-year mark). As it is not clear what will happen to those who arrive in the UK after the Specified Date, you will need to ensure you have clear original documentary evidence of living in the UK now (such as payslips, bank statements, utility bills etc).
Theresa May has recently indicated that you will be able to register before we leave the EU, from mid-2018 and that EU citizens with permanent residence will be able to switch to settled status for free. She also confirmed that EU citizens will have their rights written into UK law once all negotiations have concluded – these will be enforceable in UK courts and, for the next 8 years, UK courts can ask the European Court of Justice to interpret its case law if needed.
What can you do now?
Whilst EEA nationals who currently hold PR status will still need to register under the new settled status scheme, there should be a simpler process for switching to settled status if you already have PR. Plus, if you have been living in the UK as a qualified person for 6 years or more, you could apply for PR and then British citizenship, if you wish.
So if you have lived and worked in the UK for 5 years or more and want to make the UK your home, you might want to apply for PR now. Equally, if you have been here for less than 5 years, you can apply for a Registration Certificate which may be helpful when you need to register under the new system. And even if you decide to do nothing until the registration scheme opens next year, it will certainly be sensible to locate and keep original evidence of your residence here such as original utility bills, council tax statements and other official letters showing residence in the UK plus your employment contract, payslips and P60s to evidence continuous work.