Legal

Where does a no-deal Brexit leave EEA workers?

6 Feb 2019 By Laura Devine

As the 29 March deadline withdrawal date grows ever closer, Laura Devine outlines what European workers and their families need to know

Following the unprecedented 432 to 202 vote defeat of the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons in mid-January, Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly dodged a career-ending vote of no-confidence. On 29 January, parliament voted on a number of amendments to Ms May’s so-called ‘plan B,’ including a non-binding amendment to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as well as another that called for alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop.

For the PM, this means a return to Brussels and a Sisyphean attempt to reopen negotiations in order to find new common ground on how to, among other things, handle the complicated issue of the Irish border. Problematically, the EU has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of implementing substantive changes to the draft withdrawal agreement, making the possibility of a no-deal Brexit ever likelier.

EEA citizens’ rights 

In the increasingly likely event that the UK were to withdraw from the EU without an agreement in place, the government has introduced policy to avoid the displacement of the millions of EEA nationals currently living in the UK, and to help transition from the repeal of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, which implement free movement, to the introduction of domestic skills-based immigration rules for future migrant entrants. 

In a no-deal scenario, the government’s current European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS) deadline for EEA nationals and their family members to be resident in the UK, and thereby qualify for settled or pre-settled status, would move forward from 31 December 2020 to the date of Brexit on 29 March 2019. At the same time, the deadline for status applications under the EUSS would be advanced from 30 June 2021 to 31 December 2020. Individuals who secure either settled or pre-settled status would continue to enjoy rights much as they do currently under free movement rules. 

The UK would then operate under transitional measures from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020. Under these temporary rules, EEA citizens would be allowed to enter the UK for short-term visits of up to three months to work, visit or study without a visa. For lengthier stays of between three and 36 months, EEA nationals would be required to apply for temporary, non-extendable permission for European Temporary Leave to Remain, which would include identity, criminality, and security checks.

For stays longer than three years, EEA nationals would be required to apply for permission under the future skills-based immigration system set to take force in January 2021. 

Laura Devine is the managing partner of specialist immigration law firm Laura Devine Solicitors

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