Europeans in UK Seek Clarification as Brexit Looms

| August 28, 2019


As the planned date for the United Kingdom to exit from the European Union approaches, uncertainty prevails among mainland European citizens resident in the UK. Doubts and concerns have led to demands that the Home Office clarifies their immigration status. Understandably, confusion appears to be on the increase as the deadline looms, especially with no deal agreed as yet. Significantly, unrestricted movement between the UK and the European visa zone could disappear abruptly from 11 p.m. on Thursday 31st October 2019.

Such an abrupt change looks set to affect individuals travelling for personal, family or business reasons. Accordingly, in this month’s post, we highlight the current palpable sense of insecurity voiced by spokespeople and support organisations on behalf of these citizens of other EU (European Union) states. For years, the Europeans concerned have settled in cities, towns and villages throughout England, Wales and Scotland with families, stable employment and a record of paying taxes.

Additionally, apart from arrangements on the British mainland, other questions remain unanswered. Discussions continue regarding the border between the province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the south. In particular, the so-called backstop for border control measures has become a significant (if not the main) stumbling block in negotiations and frustrated attempts to reach an overall agreement.

Statistics and Concerns

According to statistics published in mid-August (2019) by The Guardian, around one million of the total 3.6 million mainland Europeans who are resident in the UK had applied for settled status so far. During the day following the publication of that same news report, more than a hundred worried EU residents telephoned the Guardian’s London offices to express their disquiet regarding the immediate consequences of a no-deal Brexit and – not least – their unclear status.

Indeed, Government announcements about the possibility of putting an end to free movement and the non-implementation of the previously floated idea of a lengthy transition period have served only to add to the doubt and fear. Tellingly, the link to a Home Office blog page also changed some time after the news article went to print; at the time of writing, the latest advice was available here.

Transition or No Transition

Previous reports indicated that foreign nationals resident in the UK would have had until the end of 2020 to confirm their settled status. However, immigration charities who have been supporting these EU citizens have questioned how landlords, employers, the NHS and border officials would or will be able to distinguish between those UK residents who originally arrived before 31st October 2019 and those who came after the cut-off date. Some commentators have questioned whether even the government itself knows. As a consequence of the ambiguity and possible lack of proof, family holidays, including half-term trips and plans for business travel, have been subject to cancellation.

Foreign (EU) nationals can apply for settled status via an Android smartphone application, although Apple users cannot use this convenient option until the release of an iPhone version planned for this autumn. Instead, Apple iPhone owners can apply by post or visit a scanning centre. However, these alternative methods take longer, so the legal limbo continues for many individuals who, in light of official announcements, wonder whether a passport will be sufficient for European travel from this autumn.

More immediately, the need to prove status could widen and become mandatory for millions of Europeans in Britain when renting accommodation, requesting medical treatment and applying for work. At present, until Brexit occurs, these relatively common formalities are straightforward for visitors and residents from Schengen visa countries.

Professional Skills Gap

In one example, a computer science lecturer at Southampton University decided to emigrate to Estonia, after fifteen years of working in England. Reportedly, his main reason was Brexit and the idea of having to request settled residential status despite paying UK taxes for more than a decade. Others have mentioned a lack of confidence and a perception that government policymakers want to appear hard on immigration and security.

Tellingly, prominent professional associations such as the Royal College of Midwives have pointed out that a significant proportion of administrative workers and health professionals who work in public hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are nationals of other EU countries. Consequently, the threat of changes from the end of October has led to apprehension about future staffing levels.

Reciprocal Arrangements

Similarly, British holidaymakers travelling to the continent might require advance ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) approval to cover their planned trips.

Finally, the British In Europe coalition group has reported anxieties among British citizens living in mainland Europe. Expatriates and their families are following news reports with keen interest, amid questions about the reciprocity of travel arrangements and – in some cases – how to prove settled resident status in their new country.