The Brexit Debate: Clarifying the Status of EU Nationals in the UK
The Home Office and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, have recently suggested that around three million European nationals residing in the UK may have to be deported in case of a leave vote in the upcoming referendum.
Curiously, the total number of EU-born migrants in the UK currently stands at just over 3 million, according to the National Statistics Office. Does the government suggest that it might have to deport all of the EU nationals in the UK? Indeed, this cannot be the case. First, EU nationals with a permanent residence status are allowed to reside in the UK indefinitely, regardless of the referendum’s outcome. EU nationals may qualify for permanent residence status after five years of continuous residence in the UK. Permanent residence can only generally be lost should the status holder elect to reside outside of the UK for more than two years. Permanent residence is necessary for any application for British citizenship.
Settled Status in the UK refers to the immigration status granted to eligible EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens, as well as their family members living in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period (December 31, 2020). It allows individuals to continue living and working in the UK without immigration restrictions. Settled Status is part of the UK government’s EU Settlement Scheme, which was introduced to protect the rights of EU citizens and their family members residing in the UK after Brexit. Once granted Settled Status, individuals can stay indefinitely in the UK and enjoy various benefits and services.
Brexit and EU Nationals: Rights and Considerations
Secondly, even if the UK votes “leave,” nothing is likely to change until the negotiation period is over. The UK will need to give the EU a two years notice of its intention to leave, during which the actual terms of its exit will need to be negotiated. In the case of Greenland, which left the EU in 1985, it took them almost three years to negotiate the exit. So, EU nationals can still travel to and from the UK and apply for permanent residence during that period.
Finally, all EU citizens who have entered the country before the referendum (and perhaps even during the two years notice period after the referendum) would not be affected by the outcome of the referendum, as they will be able to retain their existing rights by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, which essentially states that withdrawal from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other, but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before the withdrawal.
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK is an immigration status that grants an individual the right to live and work in the country without any time restrictions. ILR is also known as settlement or permanent residency. It allows individuals to stay in the UK indefinitely and provides them with many benefits, such as access to public funds, healthcare, and education.