The European Economic Community (EEC) was formed in 1957; the UK joined in 1973 and a referendum two years later of continuing membership resulted in 67% approval.
Since then, Euroscepticism in the UK has grown and become a significant force especially because of the right of Free Movement for EU citizens which is a fundamental EU right and has resulted in large-scale EEA immigration to the UK. Such immigration has had a major net positive impact on the financial and societal success of the UK, however, there has also been resentment in some quarters of society.
In January 2013, David Cameron promised that should the Conservative Party win a parliamentary majority at the 2015 general election, the UK government would negotiate more favourable arrangements for continuing British membership in the EU before holding a referendum as to whether the UK should remain or leave the EU.
Following this, the legal basis for a referendum was established by the UK Parliament through the European Union Referendum Act 2015.
The UK EU Referendum is a non-binding referendum that took place on 23 June 2016 in the UK and Gibraltar to gauge support for the country’s continued membership of the EU. The referendum resulted in an overall vote to leave the EU (BREXIT) as opposed to remaining an EU member by 51% to 48.1% respectively.
Withdrawal from the European Union is a right of EU member states under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. Article 50 will allow the UK to withdraw from the European Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Labour Force Survey estimates for 2015, there are 3.3 million EU citizens residing in the UK. The ONS Labour market statistics estimate that of the EU born migrants in the UK, 2.1 million are currently working.
For many of the estimated 3 million non-British EU citizens living in the UK, the vote to leave has proved unsettling at the very least. There is now the very real possibility that EU citizens currently in the UK will lose their automatic right to come and work in the UK. It is also more likely that EU citizens will face restrictions and barriers in the form of work permits and visas.
EU citizens may wish to consider their options of applying for a registration certificate which will prove their right to live and work in the UK – it may not be enough to just show your passport to your employer.
Further, EEA nationals who have been residing in the UK for at least 5 years and have been exercising their Treaty Rights (by working, being self-employed or studying) may wish to consider their options of applying for an EEA Permanent Residence Card. This would be equivalent to “Indefinite Leave to Remain” under the UK immigration rules.
EEA Nationals who currently hold an EEA Permanent Residence Card and have held the same for at least 1 year, may wish to consider their options of naturalising as British citizens. Nationality rules are complex and citizenship is a privilege granted to those who the Home Office consider to be of “good character.”
There are different ways you can naturalise as a British citizen and the eligibility criteria is complex. It is recommended applicants submit a properly executed application with the requisite documentation to ensure the best chance of success. Failure to do so could lead to delays and immigration rules may change.
The UK have two years in which to leave the EU officially – therefore those who wish to join their EU family member in the UK should continue to consider their options of settling in the UK with them.
An EEA Family Permit is granted for 6 months and allows a non-EEA National to enter the UK so they can join their EU family member who is exercising their Treaty Rights in the UK. An EEA Residence Card is granted for 5 years after which a non-EEA National may be able to make an application for an EEA Permanent Residence Card.
If you are an EEA Residence Cardholder coming to the end of your 5-year period, you may wish to consider your options of applying for Permanent Residency in the UK after which you can consider naturalising as a British citizen.
Under the current UK Immigration Rules, those non-EU nationals wishing to work in the UK must be sponsored by a UK employer. The current points-based system was introduced between 2008 and 2010 and has attracted much controversy over the years due to the harsh restrictions imposed on businesses and migrants.
For example, businesses wishing to sponsor migrants must first apply for permission to do so, by way of applying for a Sponsor Licence. These applications tend to be complicated and if granted a Sponsor Licence, businesses are required to “police” their workers or face hefty fines. Further, employers are expected to pay these workers a minimum salary of £20,800 (due to increase to £30,000 in 2017) but this may be more depending on the job role the employee is required to undertake.
Initial reports indicate that it is likely the majority of EU workers in the UK will not be eligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa (working visa) as they do not work in “highly skilled” roles and are not paid the minimum salary as set out above. There is also a cap on skilled work visas so even if the EU national worked in a highly-skilled role, there is a possibility they may not be eligible for a visa.
Brexit is unlikely to make a significant difference to overall immigration to the UK. Britain is required to negotiate a new agreement and has 2 years to do this. There are currently 3 million EU migrants in the UK and the vast majority of them hold EEA Permanent Residence Cards. It is likely now, that EU migrants who are eligible, will be able to apply for naturalisation and become British citizens. Those who do not have a Permanent Residence Card will be making applications to do so and it will be interesting to see how the Home Office cope with the pressure of processing these applications within the 6-month statutory requirement period.
If you wish to consider your options following Brexit or are concerned about your current position in the UK, please call our Immigration Team.