After much deliberation and anticipation, the UK government has now reached an agreement with the European Union on the rights of EU citizens leading up to and following Brexit.
An implementation period will run from the date the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020, during which time there will be no change to EU citizens’ rights; they can continue to live and work in the UK without restriction.
What has been agreed?
A new EU settlement scheme is being rolled out from next month, with pilot schemes taking place in the North West of England, for which the government is looking for 4,000 recruits from universities and the NHS. The scheme will be active by the end of March 2019 and once fully operational, all EU citizens living in the UK by 20 December 2020 will be able to apply under the new scheme, which will run until 30 June 2021. The scheme invites applications for pre-settled status and settled status.
Pre-settled status is for those who have been in the UK for less than 5 years at the time of application. Settled status is for those who have been in the UK for 5 years or more.
Those who obtain settled status can continue to live and work in the UK for as long as they like. Those with pre-settled status can stay in the UK for a further 5 years with the same rights and apply for settled status once they have 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK.
Some clarity has also been provided for Irish citizens, who will not need to apply under the scheme, whilst the rights of citizens of Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland are still being negotiated.
How do I apply?
The government has been clear that its ‘default’ approach to applications will be to grant not refuse. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said that the system will ‘offer security and certainty to EU citizens living in the UK’. The scheme is designed to be streamlined and simplified, with applicants required to answer 3 ‘simple’ questions online or via the smartphone app. Those applying will need proof of their identity, residence and criminal record. Proof of identity can be scanned and uploaded, the original document should then be sent to the Home Office by post. Proof of residency and convictions will be checked against Home Office records, avoiding the excessive bureaucracy of the current system. Family members can also apply.
We are told that applicants can expect a decision to be reached within approximately 2 weeks, and that there would have to be ‘a very good reason’ for refusing an application.
Fees will be £65 for adults and £32.50 for children. Those with indefinite leave to remain, permanent residence or pre-settled status can obtain settled status without an additional charge.
What happens after December 2020?
We do not yet have much information about the situation for EU citizens arriving in the UK in January 2021, although the Brexit White Paper suggests that the current system for non-EU migrants will be adopted. Importantly, it is unclear whether it will be possible to employ EU workers into jobs below degree level. We expect an announcement in the Autumn. We expect for there to be a new Tier 3 visa to be introduced for low skilled workers and for EU students under 31 to be able to stay on to work for at least 2 years under an extension of the Youth Mobility visa.