Employees from the EU who want to remain in the UK after Brexit should be able to do so without needing to become citizens, according to new guidance issued by the government.
A document sent to the European Commission last week contained new information about how EU citizens can apply for ‘settled status’ post-Brexit. The plans outline a completely new system for EU nationals to apply for settled status, which the government has promised will be a streamlined, low-cost, digital process.
The new status will allow lawful residence in the UK for most EU citizens who have been living in the country legally and continuously for five years. It will enable them to prove their status and rights, as guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement, to the UK authorities, employers, public service providers and others.
Individuals who are already in the country but do not meet the five-year threshold can apply for continued residence on a temporary basis.
Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD’s senior labour market adviser, believes the ‘reasonable’ set of proposals should reassure EU nationals working in the UK and their employers.
“The settled status document will be equivalent to the cost of a UK passport, and the government has also said that the new status will not be refused on minor technicalities,” said Davies. “Overall, it suggests that EU nationals will not have to go down the costly route of citizenship because they will have the same rights as UK nationals with this settled status document.”
But Chris Brazier, business immigration lawyer at B P Collins, warned it was vital for employers to communicate the latest developments to their workforce. “Without any certainty about the future, it is more important than ever that employers of EU nationals talk to them about their situation and take the time to explain the options available to them to dissuade them from leaving the UK,” said Brazier. “This includes informing them of the preparatory steps they should be taking to evidence their residence in the UK under the proposed settled status or under the current permanent residence route.”
Brazier said clients had been asking for information on helping employees obtain a Permanent Residence Document (PRD), which was introduced in 2006 to help EU citizens who wanted to apply to become British citizens.
Brazier added: “As it now seems clear that the government will commit to allowing EU nationals to exchange their PRD for settled status, employers should be actively considering such sessions so that their EU national employees have both the necessary information they need to make a decision about their future and, crucially, are given a sense that their employer cares about their future.”
Davies said many employers had been facing a dilemma of whether to help their EU employees become UK citizens by subsidising their citizenship or by at least providing financial support to the process.
“However, this document is suggesting that EU nationals and employers don’t need to necessarily go down that route because they have largely the same rights in terms of access to benefits and public services,” said Davies. “It’s effectively an indefinite leave to remain document and it’s costing a fraction of what citizenship costs. It’s reducing pressure on EU nationals and employers to go down the citizenship route.”
The document also offers reassurance that EU citizens will not be expected to leave on the day the UK exits the European Union, and acknowledges that around three million EU citizens and their families are potentially going to apply for this new status.
As such, “the UK estimates that the period made available for individuals to make an application after exit will last for around two years after the UK’s exit from the EU. Those EU citizens and their family members in scope of the Withdrawal Agreement will have their status in the UK protected during that time,” the document states.
In addition, EU citizens will be given a statutory right to appeal if a decision goes against their wish to remain in the UK.