UK government unveils proposals on rights of EU citizens after Brexit

Immigration law charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has strongly criticised the government’s proposal on the status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit.

The organization said the new proposals added unnecessary complexity and uncertainty to the EU nationals deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May said a policy paper published by the government would make clear the UK’s ‘fair and serious offer’ to maintain EU citizens’ rights, which will be enshrined in UK law.

These proposals should be part of a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in Europe, which the government wants to agree as quickly as possible, Ms May said.

The Prime Minister said: “EU citizens are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our country and I have always been clear that I want to protect their rights. That is why I initially sought an agreement on this before we triggered Article 50. And it is why I am making it an immediate priority at the beginning of the negotiations. That agreement must be reciprocal because we must protect the rights of UK citizens living in the EU too.”

The Prime Minister said their offer will give the three million EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives. “A reciprocal agreement,” she added, “will provide the same certainty for the more than 1 million UK citizens who are living in the European Union.”

The government’s policy paper, “Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU”, explains how EU citizens looking to remain in the UK can do so.

It confirms the creation of a new ‘settled status’ for EU citizens who arrive before a cut-off date, which is yet to be specified and will be agreed as part of the negotiations with the EU.

Those who already have five years’ continuous residence in the UK will be immediately eligible for settled status. The applicants who arrived before the specified date but do not yet meet the five-year threshold by exit day will be allowed to stay until they reach that milestone and can also secure settled status.

Those EU citizens who are granted settled status will be treated like a comparable UK national, entitled to broadly the same rights and benefits.

A grace period of up to two years will be in place for all EU citizens, including those who arrive after the cut-off date, allowing them to regularise their status to remain in the country.

All applying to remain in the UK will undergo full criminality checks.

According to the policy paper, family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years.

EU citizens looking to remain in the UK will be asked to apply for documentation under what the government termed “a new streamlined, user friendly scheme”.

The paper also confirms protection for the existing healthcare arrangements for both EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. This includes seeking continued participation in the European Health Insurance Card scheme for all UK nationals and EU citizens, including for temporary visits.

The UK intends to provide certainty by continuing to export and uprate the UK State Pension within the EU, as well as offering reassurance that those exporting a benefit at the specified date will be able to do so, subject to ongoing entitlement.

EU citizens who arrived before the specified date should be able to continue to be eligible for Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) student loans and ‘home fee’ status.

The UK also intends to continue to recognise professional qualifications obtained in the Member States prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This would be part of a reciprocal deal which ensures professional qualifications obtained in the UK and EU Member States continue to be mutually recognised.

Saira Grant, JCWI’s Chief Executive, said they welcomed the government’s decision to simplify the process for EU nationals and family members applying for status after Brexit.

“It is gratifying that it has taken on board the concerns we and others raised regarding Comprehensive Sickness Insurance for example,” Ms Grant said. “However, we cannot fathom why they are making individuals who already have applied for Permanent Residence or a Residence card apply again. These are people who have already proven their right to be here to the Government’s satisfaction under a very stringent process.”

She pointed out that many of the EU nationals will have applied for Permanent Residence or a Residence card in order to feel more secure in the UK after Brexit. “It is astonishing that the Government wants to take on the expense and administrative hassle of reprocessing all of those applications under a new scheme and thereby creating more bureaucracy and continued anxiety for EU nationals,” Ms Grant said.