The 2016 EU referendum has created much uncertainty for EU nationals in the UK. 5% of higher education students in the UK and over 31,000 university academics (16% of the total) are from the EU. HE institutions and EU nationals are seeking clarity as to possible impact of Brexit as well as the steps they should be taking in the near future.
HE institutions are concerned about the possible introduction of new barriers to recruiting talented European staff; reduced levels of international research collaboration; increasing difficulties in recruiting European students; a loss of funding for research & innovation; and reduced outward mobility opportunities for staff and students.
Universities UK has called on the government to confirm the rights to reside and work in the UK post-Brexit for EU nationals currently working in the university sector, along with their dependants. They have also asked the government confirm that EU students starting courses in 2018 and 2019 will continue to be eligible for home fee status, loans and grants. They have also sought reassurance about continued UK participation in the Horizon 2020 research and innovation framework programme for the remainder of the current programme.
There have also been calls for a simplified and improved visa regime for both international staff and students. Theresa May stated in her speech on 17th January 2017 that the UK will leave the Single Market, thereby ending free movement once we exit the EU. Were this to happen, it would necessitate the introduction of a new immigration framework for EU nationals.
There has been talk of a 2-tier immigration system in which EU nationals hold a privileged status over non-EU nationals. Others have suggested an Australian-style points system. Or perhaps, EU nationals will have to apply for visas under the same immigration scheme as non-EU nationals currently do, such as Tier 4 for students and Tier 2 for skilled workers. All of the above however simply amounts to speculation.
Until the UK exits the EU, the rights of EU nationals to live, study and work here will continue
Until the UK exits the EU, the rights of EU nationals to live, study and work here will continue. It seems probable that this will continue until at least March 2019 when the two-year negotiating period is due to end. Transitional arrangements may also be introduced meaning that some EU nationals who were in the UK before a particular `cut off' date, will be exempt from immigration restrictions after the two-year period ends.
The PM has stated that she wishes to guarantee the rights of EEA nationals already living in the UK as soon as possible but until now no firm promise has been made. Given the uncertainty, it is advisable for EU nationals wishing to remain in the UK to protect their residency rights in the UK and to do so as soon as possible, especially given the possibility that there may well be a cut-off date, after which different rules will apply.
EU nationals and their family members currently have three options, depending on how long they have lived in the UK.
For those who hold permanent residence documentation (which is acquired in certain instances after five years - see below) they may be able to apply for British Citizenship after holding permanent residence status for at least 1 year. Holding British citizenship will ensure the individual is fully protected, but bear in mind that some countries do not allow for dual nationality.
Where an EU national has lived in the UK for a continuous five years in accordance with the EEA regulations, they may be able to apply for permanent residence documents which could protect them once Brexit occurs. Students however will need to prove they have held comprehensive health insurance during the five-year period, otherwise their applications are likely to fail.
Alternatively, if an EU national has lived in the UK for less than five years, they can still apply for a Registration Certificate to prove they are exercising their Treaty Rights. While there is no obligation to apply for this certificate, in time it may prove useful depending upon the rules that are eventually introduced.
The immigration regulations are complex and every situation is unique so we strongly advise taking professional advice before submitting any applications to UK Visas and Immigration.