Brexit: How the referendum will affect EU nationals

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Since the EU referendum Blake Morgan has heard from a number of clients who are concerned about their status in the UK.

We do not know yet what will happen but there is no immediate need to worry and perhaps no need to worry at all.

Leaving the EU

Although the Prime Minister has said he will honour the referendum result, he has also said he will resign in October and will not instigate leaving the EU before then. It will then be up to the new Prime Minister to decide if he or she wants to put the question to Parliament. It will take quite some time for that process to be completed, if it happens at all.

If the UK does start the mechanism to leave the EU (invoking the previously obscure Article 50) it is unlikely to begin before the early part of 2017. It will thereafter take a minimum of two years for the UK to negotiate its exit from the EU, and possibly much longer. Although there are calls in Europe for the UK's exit to happen much quicker than that, if we do leave the EU it is not likely to happen in much less than three years. Again, unless there is some extraordinary agreement (which is not currently in EU law), EU and EEA citizens, and their family members, whether EU / EEA or not, will still have the right of free movement and be able to live and work in the UK. So, no immediate need to worry.

The alternative

The UK has clearly stated that it wishes to have some form of agreement with the EU, such as being part of the European Economic Area (EEA), or agree a similar agreement that the EU has with Switzerland. However, the EEA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland, although not being part of the EU, are part of free movement.

Campaigners in favour of Brexit proclaimed that the UK could negotiate an agreement which would not include the right of free movement, but that is far from certain. It is highly unlikely that the EU would allow the UK any meaningful access to the single market without the UK signing up to free movement, which is one of the central pillars of the EU. If not included in free movement, the UK is likely to have to accept extremely watered down access to the single market, such as current agreements in place between the EU and Turkey or Canada. If the UK wishes to have meaningful access to the single market, then it will probably have to accept free movement.

Transitional provisions

If the UK does eventually leave the EU, whether through an accelerated process or not, it is highly likely there will be some form of transitional provisions for both EU nationals living in the UK and the estimated two million British citizens living in the EU. The Government has already indicated that it does not expect EU nationals, who are already living in the UK, to leave.

Longer term

Further, EU / EEA nationals and their family members who have been living and working in the UK for at least five years acquire 'permanent residence'. This means there are no longer any conditions or time restraints of living in the UK. It is similar to a 'green card' in the USA. Although we will have to wait and see, it is highly unlikely that people who have acquired permanent residence will ever need to leave the UK. Bearing in mind a full exit is approximately three years' away, many EU / EEA citizens who are currently in the UK will have acquired permanent residence by that time.

In short, EU and EEA nationals, and their family members, do not need to worry at this time, if ever, that they will need to leave the UK, even if the UK does actually leave the EU.

Becoming British

Following the referendum result, many of our clients are now seeking British nationality. In brief summary, an EU national can become British if they have lived in the UK for at least six years, they do not have more than 450 days absences from the UK in the five years before the application, and no more than 90 in the year before the application, and are of good character.

Click here to download our free Brexit guide.