Brexit – The Latest Developments for EU Nationals in the UK

Brexit EU Referendum for EU Nationals

- By Teni Shahiean of OTS Solicitors

David Cameron has finally set a date for the referendum which will decide whether or not Britain remains in the European Union (EU).  And although the in-out vote is not until 23rd June, the issue is dominating the British media.

With powerful politicians and business leaders occupying both sides of the debate, it is little wonder that EU migrants already in the UK, those wanting to come to the UK and employers wanting to recruit workers from outside the UK are all feeling uncertain as to what changes the second half of 2016 will bring.

Latest Net Migration Figures Add Fuel to the Debate

This week data released from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that net migration stood at 323,000 in the year to last September – an increase of 31,000 on the same period in 2014.

These figures gave the ‘out’ supporters plenty of ammunition with Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, saying the figures proved it was impossible for the country to control its borders without a Brexit.

However, the ONS pointed out that the figures were misleading because the main reason for the year-on-year increase was because fewer people left the country.

However, David Cameron hit back at the supporters of Brexit, which include London mayor, Boris Johnson.  He stated (and probably correctly) that even if Britain did choose to leave the EU, it would still have to negotiate a Norway-like free movement deal to remain part of the single market.

What Brexit Could Mean for EU Workers

At present there are 1.73 million EU nationals living in the UK and 79 percent are in employment.

There are an estimated 2.2 million Britons live in the other 26 EU countries, excluding Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013.

Until a trade/free movement agreement could be negotiated, Brexit may mean that UK Immigration would have to rely on British national law, making moving to the UK much more difficult than it is now.

According to the Guardian, “Border staff would need to establish whether new arrivals meet the requirements for entry, requiring proof of income, intention to return and lack of intention to work. Those planning to stay for longer would need to present proof of employment – posing as a major disincentive for those in industries with low job security, such as the arts. At universities, EU nationals would have to pay full tuition fees and would have no access to student loans.”

One major concern is EU migrants from Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria would suddenly find it considerably more difficult to enter the UK, a fate which may not necessarily be shared by migrants from wealthier countries such as France and Germany.

EU Migrants Access to Benefits

Entitlement to benefits is closely linked to free movement principles.  Access to public funds by migrants is one area David Cameron is determined to clamp down on.  Before setting the date for the EU membership referendum, he endured an all-night negotiation session with EU leaders, hammering out a revised membership deal.  Some of the points included in this deal were:

  • Child benefit payments to migrant workers whose children are still resident in their home country will be recalculated to match the equivalent rate in their country of origin. In many cases, this will mean that foreign nationals will receive less child benefit than their British counterparts.
  • The UK may decide to limit in-work benefits for foreign nationals for their first four years in Britain, in situations where there is an “exceptional” level of migration to the UK. This “emergency brake” must be lifted after seven years.
  • There will be limitations on free movement for non-EU nationals who marry someone from an EU member state. They will also implement new powers to prevent the entry of persons they believe to be a security risk – even without any previous convictions.

These membership provisions will take effect immediately if Britain elects to stay in the EU on 23rd June 2016.

The Effect of a Brexit on Business

The UK business community remains divided on whether Britain should stay or go.  However, ambiguity has always affected business confidence in a negative way, and the International Monetary Fund has warned that Britain’s steady growth could be jeopardised by the uncertainty in the run-up to the referendum.

A Brexit could mean that British employers may find it much harder, especially in the short-term, to fill certain vacancies, especially low-skilled, low-wage jobs that are traditionally filled by EU migrants.  A more pressing concern, however, is the Immigration status of EU workers already residing in Britain.  A mass exodus of labour could spell disaster for many industries, who are already struggling to find enough workers to grow their business and meet consumer demand.

Rush on Permanent Residency Cards

Many EU nationals working in the UK are enquiring about obtaining permanent residence Cards or citizenship and we have been busy processing a significant number of them recently.

You can apply for a permanent residence Card after you’ve lived in the UK for five years. This will prove your right to live in the UK permanently.  Although a permanent residence Card is not required by EU nationals at the moment, if Britain leaves the EU, not having one may make the ability to stay in the UK and access healthcare and benefits more problematic. 

If you think that you mayhave entitlement to permanent residence in the UK and you would like to apply for permanent residence card under EEA PR form; or if you have any questions in relation to the benefits of applying for a document certifying permenant residence and permenant residence card, you can read more here, or contact us today to discuss this with you.

In Summary

What will be the consequences of a Brexit?  Who knows?  However, despite all the hypothesising, history does provide is with some wisdom in these types of situations, namely;

  1. The outcome is usually never as bad as the media try to make out, (remember Y2K and Swine Flu); and
  2. Regardless of the result on the 23rd June, Britain will have to keep close ties with Europe and part of this will most likely include keeping some, if not all, aspects of free movement alive.

OTS Solicitors have the experience and expertise to advise both EEA and non-EEA nationals through the Immigration process in the UK.  We will ensure that your rights under the European Convention of Human Rights are fully protected throughout the procedure and can submit same day applications where applicable.

To talk to us further, please phone our London office on 0207 936 9960 to make an appointment with one of our immigration lawyers..

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