Statements attributed to sources close to the Home Secretary, followed by the rushed publication of a Home Office ‘media factsheet’ and other communications, have created uncertainty this week for EU citizens. This concerns those who wish to move to the UK in the event that the UK has left the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019.
First of all, it is important to be clear that EU citizens and their family members who are already living in the UK by 31 October 2019 will have their right to remain protected under UK law. This is providing they apply under the EU Settlement Scheme before the cut off date, currently 31 December 2020. The application process is usually relatively simple and quick for the vast majority and many charities and other organisations are now ready to provide assistance to vulnerable applicants.
In relation to EU citizens who are planning to move to the UK after 31 October, the position is unfortunately now far less clear.
Previous no-deal plans
Under Theresa May, the Government published plans that stated that, in the event the UK left the EU without an agreement having been reached, the UK would allow EU citizens to enter the UK for up to three months without requiring any type of immigration permission.
Those who wished to remain beyond then, for example to work etc. would be able to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain which would allow them stay for a further three years.
They would then have to apply for further leave to remain under the UK’s future immigration system which is currently scheduled to come into force in 2021.
Changes have been signalled
However, it now appears that under Boris Johnson, these plans may be changed.
First of all, over the weekend, sources close to the Home Secretary appear to have told members of the press that the Government was intending to end free movement of EU citizens to the UK on 31 October.
A media factsheet was then published by the Home Office on 19 August which was intended to address what it claimed was inaccurate reporting that had ‘suggested that, once freedom of movement ends after Brexit, EU citizens resident in the UK will be left in “legal limbo”’.
The content of the factsheet has only served to create more concern, in particular this section:
What does this mean? Will EU citizens still be able to come here on holiday?
EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK on holiday and for short trips, but what will change is the arrangements for people coming to the UK for longer periods of time and for work and study. Details of other changes immediately after 31 October and improvements to the previous government’s plans for a new immigration system are being developed.
Then, on 21 August 2019, the Home Office has sent out another email as follows:
Update on the EU Settlement Scheme
There have been reports in the media and on social media regarding plans to end freedom of movement after we leave the EU, as well as what this means for EU citizens resident in the UK.
We want to reassure all EU citizens and their family members in the UK that you still have until at least 31 December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, even in the event of a no-deal exit. Furthermore, if someone who is eligible for status is not in the UK when we leave the EU, they will still be free to enter the UK as they are now.
Those who have not yet applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by 31 October 2019 will still have the same entitlements to work, benefits and services. Those rights will not change. EU citizens will continue to be able to prove their rights to access these benefits and services in the same way as they do now.
Further details can be found in our free movement factsheet, but please feel free to contact us in writing by clicking here.
Urgent clarification is needed
Despite the Home Office’s attempts to try and calm the situation, at the point of writing no reliable information exists — at least not in the public domain — regarding the immigration system for EU citizens seeking to come to the UK for a longer period of time, such as for work and study reasons, from 1 November 2019. This is in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
There are less than three months left until the UK potentially exits the EU without a deal and the legislation required to end free movement has not been passed by Parliament. Many suggest that it is unlikely to be put to Parliament because MPs who do not support a no-deal Brexit may thwart it.
It is difficult to see exactly how the UK can impose two different immigration systems covering those EU citizens who were living in the UK pre-31 October, but who have not applied under the EU Settlement Scheme, and those who move to the UK after Brexit.
Employers, universities, schools and others, including EU citizens themselves, need to know what rules will apply in the various scenarios so that preparations can be made. Whilst the current state of flux may be due to political poker being played out, decisions on recruitment, relocations, study opportunities etc. need to be taken.
This lack of detail, and the uncertainty it is creating, is unprecedented. An urgent resolution is required.
We will update our website as soon as any detailed information is published by the Government.