What will withdrawal from the EU mean for EU citizens currently living in the UK?
There are more than 3 million EU migrants currently living in the UK and a new report by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford warns that the government faces a huge administrative exercise in examining their residence rights. The report analyses the existing process for EU citizens registering as permanent residents in the UK, and finds that while the government has indicated it ‘expects’ to protect the long-term status of EU migrants living in the UK if it decides to end free movement, the process of doing so may be complex.
The report—‘Here today, gone tomorrow? The status of EU citizens already living in the UK’—gives an indication of some of the issues the government may face in any new post-Brexit registration scheme.
If existing rules for registering EU citizens as permanent residents are used as the model for a post-Brexit registration process, a substantial minority of EU citizens could find themselves ineligible despite having lived in the UK for several years.
If all EEA+ citizens were to apply in the same year, this would be equivalent to approximately 140 years’ worth of permanent residence applications.
Although some campaigners, prior to the referendum, argued that EU citizens already living in the UK would be granted indefinite leave to remain analysts have noted that existing laws do not guarantee permanent residence for this group, and that much will depend on policy decisions by the UK government.
The report notes that in 2015, 22% of permanent residence applications were refused, and 12% were rejected as invalid.
Immigration lawyers also report that there is particular confusion around the current permanent residence rules for students and people such as retirees, who may not know that they are expected to have sickness insurance while in the UK. Aslo, self-employed persons who have not retained sufficient evidence of their economic activity over the relevant period, low earners, and persons who were unemployed, potentially breaking the period of continuous activity, may become ineligible for permanent residence.
So far, the government has made broad statements supporting the principle of protecting the rights of EU citizens already living here. Prime Minister May has said that the only circumstance in which the rights of EU citizens in the UK would not be guaranteed would be if rights of UK citizens in the EU were not similarly protected.
However, the details could be quite complex, including questions such as who will qualify as ‘already living in the UK’, what conditions they will have to meet, and what the application process will involve.
For the 975,000 or so EEA citizens who have not lived in the UK long enough to be eligible for permanent residence by early 2016, these people will continue to accrue years of residence that could qualify them for permanent residence before the UK’s exit process is completed. If the UK remained in the EU for another two years, for example, those who have currently been in the country for around 4 years would meet the residence duration requirement during this time.
The phrase ‘people already living in the UK’ is not precise. While most cases involving people employed in the UK in stable, full-time jobs have the potential to be relatively straightforward, many EU citizens may find themselves in more complex situations. This includes students, self-sufficient people, low earners and the self-employed.
The report warns that the administrative task facing the Home Office is formidable, with a much larger volume of applications expected in a complex area of law.
Source: Report: Here today, gone tomorrow? The status of EU citizens already living in the UK