Let’s assume that the UK is leaving the European Union (EU) on 29th March next year. And let’s assume that after that there is no UK/EU deal to govern what happens afterwards – whether that’s a deal that covers everything, or a deal that covers the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU.
For a long time the UK government has said that EU citizens will not have to leave the UK – or suggested that EU citizens will get access to a settlement system.
Many have called for the UK to make a unilateral offer, to the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK from the day after the referendum, so it’s a little surprising that last weeks’ definitive statement from the UK government on the matter seems to have gone un-noticed.
What has been announced?
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU citizens resident in the UK by 29th March will be able to stay and “take steps” to protect their rights. In plain English, this means that the settlement scheme already announced will roll out next year, deal or no-deal. But, it only extends to EU citizens in the UK before Brexit, and there was nothing said about the status of EU nationals arriving here after Brexit.
EU citizens who are in the UK before Brexit will still need to apply (by 31st December 2020) and the qualifying status will be the same as the scheme already announced. So, what changes then under a no-deal?
Firstly, EU citizens arriving in the UK after 29th March 2019 get no comfort from this announcement. Under the draft withdrawal agreement, EU arrivals before the end of 2020 get a route permanent settlement, but under the latest announcement there is no such certainty.
Secondly, a more limited class of family will be able to join EU nationals here in the future - and they have until 29th March 2022 to do so, providing the relationship existed before Brexit (29th March 2019). Before the latest announcement, there was a more extended definition and the relationship had to exist by the end of December 2020. Children would get an open-end right to join an EU parent in the UK.
What about UK nationals in the EU?
No news - just that the UK cannot unilaterally protect the rights of UK nationals in the EU and that the UK wants the EU to reciprocate by offering UK nationals in the EU the same deal.
So is everything settled then?
Not quite. The announcement says that EU citizens in the UK by 29th March 2019 can access benefits and services in, generally, the same way that they can now. So healthcare, education, benefits, housing access remain largely unchanged. But there was nothing said about EU citizens arriving after March next year and nothing, explicitly, said about the families and dependants arriving after March either.
What should employers do?
Take the positives with either a deal, or no-deal, EU citizens get the right to settle in the UK and will have until 31st December 2020 to apply for settled status. Close family members can join them before 29th March 2022. And think about how you can communicate the settlement process and guide your EU workers through this. For more – see EEF’s Brexit Toolkit @ https://www.brexittoolkit.co.uk/