BREXIT - The State of Play for Citizens' Rights
When it comes to Brexit, one of the EU27's core negotiating principles, as set out in the European Council's April 2017 negotiating guidelines, is that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". As of now, there is no legally binding withdrawal agreement between the UK government and the EU27, and so any proposals from either side are just that - proposals, subject to further negotiation.
It is also important to note that the UK government will have to conclude separate agreements with (non-EU) EEA countries - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - on the status of their citizens who are resident in the UK.
Here we look at the UK government's and the EU27's policy positions on citizens' rights today, and how they got to this point. We then suggest some actions that those affected should consider taking in light of these negotiating positions.
Timeline of Position Statements
Over the last year, several documents have been issued by both the UK government and the institutions of the EU, addressing the implications of Brexit for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
The UK Government published its proposals on "Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU", outlining its proposal to offer "settled status" under UK law to EU citizens and their families resident in the UK before the 29 March 2019 ("Brexit Day").
The UK and EU published a Joint Report on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), including details on the post-Brexit rights of UK and EU citizens for inclusion in the final Withdrawal Agreement.
As of the end of 2017, the UK government had proposed that:
- EU citizens who have been continuously resident in the UK for five years, with or without a permanent residence document, would have to apply for settled status, under UK law, within about two years after Brexit Day, in order to remain in the UK;
- The "settled status" application would be available from the end of 2018, would not be excessively expensive and would require only an ID document, a photo and a declaration of any criminal convictions;
- Those who have already obtained a permanent residence document would not have to pay a fee for "settled status".
- Those who have been resident for less than five years would be able to apply for temporary status, also under UK law, while they accumulate five years residence to qualify for settled status;
- EU citizens who are resident in the UK before Brexit Day could be joined after Brexit Day by certain family members to whom they have been related since before Brexit Day (and by their natural or adopted children born after Brexit Day);
- Those with settled or temporary status could continue to access UK benefits at the same level as currently;
- The withdrawal agreement would not affect the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland, so that Irish citizens would not be required to apply for settled status, or to register, to move to or remain in the UK;
- UK nationals resident in an EU member state on Brexit Day might need to apply for a residence status (similar to "settled status"), and could be joined by family members after the UK has left.
- During a transition period, UK immigration rules would prevail, only allowing permanent residence to highly skilled EU citizens, only allowing free movement to those who come with a confirmed job offer and imposing a time limit of two years to EU citizens coming or low-skilled jobs.
28 February 2018
The EU27 produced a draft Withdrawal Agreement, a translation of December's Joint Report into legal language, with some new and controversial details on citizens' rights which are still subject to further negotiation.
The draft agreement proposes that:
- EU citizens who have obtained permanent residence status in the UK before Brexit Day should not have to exchange this for "settled status", and will maintain their right to permanent residence according to the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union;
- EU citizens resident in the UK after Brexit Day can be joined by dependent family members to whom they are related at the time of the family application (rather than on Brexit Day);
- All EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period should have exactly the same rights, under European Law, as those who arrived before Brexit Day, and should therefore be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than by any separate UK transitional rules;
- UK nationals living in an EU member state on Brexit Day will lose their freedom of movement rights across other EU member states, after the transition period.
The UK government did not publish their own draft agreement, but did publish a three-page policy paper on "EU citizens arriving in the UK during the implementation period'', also on 28 February 2018, to respond to the EU27 draft agreement, and updated its guidance for EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.
In this policy paper, the UK conceded that:
- During any transition period, EU citizens and their family members would be able to come to the UK, and UK nationals move to EU, on the same basis as they do today;
- However, EU citizens arriving in the UK during this period would have to register with the UK authorities if they intend to stay for over three months; could be joined by family members "on a par with British citizens" (i.e. requiring minimum earnings threshold of £18,600); and would be able to apply for temporary status while they accumulate five years residence to qualify for indefinite leave to remain (rather than "settled status") in line with non-EEA citizens currently.
1 March 2018
However, this UK counter-offer was almost immediately rejected by the Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament, which stated that:
"we cannot accept any form of discrimination between EU citizens who arrive before or after the start of any transition. The full European Union acquis must apply during any transition, including for citizens, and no differentiation can take place. It can certainly not be the case that EU citizens arriving during any transition are forced to accept a lower standard of rights, in particular those relating to family reunion, child benefits and access to judicial redress via the European Court of Justice."
What should I do now?
- EU citizens in the UK who have already obtained a permanent residence document may or may not have to exchange this for "settled status", once this application is available, depending on the final terms of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU27. These EU citizens do not need to do anything yet.
- EU citizens who qualify for permanent residence in the UK are advised to apply for a permanent residence document. This document may make any future "settled status" application free of charge or may be enough to prove permanent residence post Brexit without a further application, and is required for naturalization applications. However, due to a recent increase in applications, this process may take up to six months or longer.
- EU citizens, and their family members, may qualify for UK permanent residence if they have been resident in the UK for at least five years continuously (not having spent more than six months outside the UK in any 12-month period of that five-year period) as a student, a worker, self-employed or self-sufficient, or a family member of one of these. The requirement to hold comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI) during this five-year period may apply - please consult an immigration specialist. Non-EEA national family members will also need to submit proof of their immigration status.
- UK nationals resident in an EU member state should consult an immigration specialist to ascertain whether a permanent residence application is necessary or advisable in their situation.