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September 2018 sees the announcement that many EU citizens had been waiting for: that the UK will allow them to apply for a settled status. One of the more contentious areas of Brexit, immigration has been a hot topic for several years and it seems that the British government has finally got its act together. For quite a while it seemed that the plight of EU citizens living in the UK would be used as a bargaining chip to secure a strong exit deal from the union, but the plans laid out prove that Britain intends to stand by these citizens, many of whom have lived in the UK for years.

So What Has Changed?

Quite simply the government has introduced a straightforward system that allows EU citizens residing in the UK the opportunity to apply for settled status. This entitles them to remain in the UK free of restriction and carry on as they are. The plan put forward by immigration minister Caroline Noakes laid out the requirements for application:

  • Applicants must prove their identity - this will be by passport, national identity card, biometric residence card or an acceptable alternative as laid out in the guidance
  • Prove that they are normally resident in the UK
  • Have no serious criminal convictions

These simple requirements mean that the vast majority of EU citizens that have been resident in the UK for more than 5 years will be able to apply. There is a final deadline of the 30th of June 2021 for EU citizens to get to the 5 years stay mark. They will also need to have not left the country for more than 6 months of any 12 month period. This is similar to many other visas and shows that the applicant is resident in the UK for at least half of the year.

What happens to those who haven't been in the UK for 5 years?

This is potentially one of the biggest problems facing not only citizens, but also the British government. The current plan is for a pre-settled status to also be created for those who arrive up until December 2020. Once these EU citizens reach their 5 years in the UK, they will also be allowed to apply for settled status. It would appear that this window will close after December 2020 and EU citizens will then need to apply to live and work in the UK under the UK's tiered visa system.

This is a big concern for employers who have benefited significantly from freedom of movement rules. These rules have brought workers from all over the union to the UK in order to live and work, and help businesses to keep expanding. The removal of freedom of movement rules means that Britain will become a significantly less enticing option for those from EU countries who may speak English as a second language.

What Happens In There Is A No-deal Scenario?

This is another potential issue. As things stand, there appears to be a distinct need for a transitional period for the UK's withdrawal from the EU. After more than 40 years of membership, the UK has many laws and institutions that are fully harmonised into the EU. It is going to take a number of years for the UK to build adequate replacements for these and therefore a transitional period makes sense. The potential issue arises if there is a no-deal. The UK has triggered its withdrawal from the union in March 2019, but with 5 months to go, the UK is woefully underprepared. But if there is no-deal, the UK is on its own the day after Brexit.

What does this mean for migrants? Potentially quite a lot. The plans that have been laid out so far are in the event of a deal being struck, if this doesn't happen, conceivably the UK could close its borders. This would be devastating news, and certainly not the eventuality that is wanted. That's why it is extremely important that those who can settle their status do so. It is the best way to ensure that you will not lose your right to remain in the UK whatever happens.

Could Brexit Be Averted?

Conceivably, yes. At this stage nothing is certain. All parties, especially EU heads of state, insist that the door remain open for the UK to remain a member of the union. The issue with that is the referendum result. 52% of the UK voted to leave the EU and however you swing it, that's still a majority. There have been many calls for a second referendum - especially by lobbying group The Peoples Vote. These calls have so far fallen on deaf ears, the prime minister knows this is political suicide. Theresa May is already hanging onto Britain's top job by a thread, having a second referendum, after consistently saying there wouldn't be one, would be seen as a backslide too far.

Are there any other options? Sure. Britain could follow the model chosen by Norway and Switzerland and become members of the EEA. In essence there is little difference in being a member of the EEA and EU, but the change may be enough for some. The argument for many is that the UK already has a better deal than that. Whatever happens, the next few months are going to be tense as the UK tries to find a balance between giving the Brexiteers what they want and managing the needs of the country.

How We Can Help

If you need help with an immigration issue then please get in touch. Our experienced immigration solicitors can help with your queries and offer support and advice to those in need. We have helped clients from all over the globe to settle in the UK and we can certainly offer help and guidance to most people. For more information or to get started, get in touch today and a member of our team will be happy to help.

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