On 26th June 2017, the UK government published its proposals “safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK” setting out its position on the status of EU citizens when UK leaves the EU.
Briefly, what UK has proposed in terms of EU citizens rights to live in the UK is new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens, enforceable in the UK courts. The Court of Justice of the European Union will have no jurisdiction in the UK. The proposals are:
(1)EU nationals who have been living in the UK in accordance with the EU treaties for five years prior the ‘specified date’ will seek comfort in that they will be granted ‘settled status’ in the UK. The specified date is likely to be a date between 29th March 2017 and the date of UK’s exit from the EU.
(2) Those EU nationals who entered the UK before the specified date and are yet to accrue five years residency in the UK will be given the opportunity to build up five years residency so that they could qualify for a settled status in the UK on completing five years residency. In the interim, they will be granted ‘temporary status’.
(3) Those EU nationals who enter the UK after the specified date will not be able to benefit under the proposals as they could not have entered the UK with the expectation that they would be able to settle in the UK under the EU provisions and build their future in the UK. Rather, they may have to qualify under the UK Immigration rules or possibly under new rules for EU nationals under the post-exit immigration arrangements.
(4) Family members of qualifying EU nationals who join them before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years residency in the UK. Whereas family members who join after the UK has exited the EU may have to qualify under the UK immigration rules or possibly under the post-exit immigration arrangements.
It will be mandatory for EU nationals and their family members living in the UK to apply for their new residence status in the UK – settled or temporary, depending on the individual circumstances. Anyone without a residence document will be deemed undocumented and will be at risk of removal from the UK.
While the UK’s proposals and assurance to EU nationals are subject to EU offering reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states, the European Commission has also published its proposal on the Citizen’s rights as the first round of negotiations with the UK. These proposals seek the same level of protection for the EU citizens living in the UK at the date of UK’s exit from the EU as under the Union law. Further protection is sought for the family members of EU nationals who have already joined them in the UK or are likely to do so in the future, after the UK’s exit from EU. The Commission also proposes that the Court of Justice of the European Union should have jurisdiction over the protection of EU citizen’s rights in the Withdrawal agreement.
It is an untrodden territory and what the final exit deal on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK remains to be seen. The EEA nationals living in the UK are best advised to obtain documentation confirming their residence status. Those who have completed five years residence should consider applying for a permanent residence status document followed by a British citizenship as soon as they become eligible.