Settled status for EU workers thrown into doubt by new government policy paper

EU citizens should not be used as ‘bargaining chips’ in Brexit negotiations, experts warn, after amendments to no-deal migration plans

EU workers hoping to remain in the UK after Brexit may face more stringent documentation requirements and a stricter deadline to apply for settled status in the event of a no-deal scenario, according to a new government policy paper.

The paper from the Department for Exiting the European Union said in the event the UK left the EU without a deal, only EU citizens who can prove residency in the UK on Brexit Day (29 March 2019) would be able to apply for settled status. It is unclear how workers with existing settled status, or those who have previously been resident but have since left the country, would be treated under this regime. 

If an exit deal is agreed, settled status would be available to EU citizens who have lived in the UK for more than five years, as has previously been announced. They would not be required to prove residency.

If a deal is agreed prior to Brexit, there is an implementation period, giving EU citizens until the end of December 2020 to apply for settled status. However, under no deal, there will be no implementation period, bringing the application deadline forward to the date of Brexit.

The change in policy comes as parliament prepares to vote tomorrow (11 January) on the exit deal agreed by the government and the EU. However, it was still unclear at the time of publication if the vote would take place.

The change in settled status policy prompted criticism from Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, who said EU citizens should not be used as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations. 

He tweeted: “In the case of no deal, the [European parliament] wants the citizens' rights deal to be ring–fenced [and] the EU must honour this. The citizens' rights deal shouldn't be watered down as the UK today proposes.”

Nadra Ahmed, co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition, said there was “some reassurance” for EEA health and social care staff in the promise that the settlement scheme would continue in case of a no-deal Brexit. “We know that individuals and their families here now will be covered by the EU settlement scheme that opens in March 2019,” she said.

“However, the policy guidance does not specify what provision will be made for anyone arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 or before January 2021, when the government has said a new immigration system will be in place,” Ahmed added. 

Separately, a number of MPs have complained that a long-awaited government white paper on immigration will apparently not be published before tomorrow’s vote, if indeed if goes ahead.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said last week it was “very unlikely” MPs would see the government’s post-Brexit immigration plans ahead of the vote, but told the BBC’s Today programme it would be “published soon”.

The government had not set a publication date for the white paper but previously said it would be made available in December. 

Sir Edward Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said details of the future immigration policy were required for any vote to be “meaningful”. 

“Brexit and immigration: shocking and unacceptable for home secretary Sajid Javid to admit the immigration white paper will not be published before the Brexit vote,” Davey said. “For a ‘meaningful vote’, MPs need to know what might happen to immigration if we leave.” 

Caroline Nokes, the minister of state for immigration, has confirmed the government planned to update and reform parts of the visa process but has not provided further details. 

She said these amendments will set out the legislative framework for introducing a new pilot scheme to enable non-EEA migrant workers to undertake seasonal employment in the UK horticultural sector. This scheme is planned to be introduced in 2019.