In the wake of early Brexit negotiations, the fate of the three million Europeans currently living in the UK is a matter of concern for many. European citizens in the UK run the risk of being left stranded in an uncertain legal scenario, mainly due to the challenges presented by the British immigration system.
The Home Office lacks the required information or system to be able to make decisions as to those Europeans who should stay and which should leave. The most likely solution is that the UK and the EU will agree on a cut-off date after which EU citizens settling in the UK will no longer hold an automatic right of permanence.
In the absence of a population register, it is almost impossible to determine which of the EU citizens were residing in the country legally before Brexit takes place. This is mainly due to the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs do not share information with the Home Office.
Although the national insurance number system may prove fundamental in assessing who was residing in the country before Brexit begins, it would not cover those EU citizens in the UK that are not working and not claiming benefits and it would possibly extend the right of permanence to those who have resided in the UK for only a short spell of time and no longer hold any connection to the UK whatsoever.
Theresa May stressed the importance of an early deal on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, but she did not receive an invitation to discuss the matter or an indication that British citizens living in Europe will be protected; she therefore refused to provide early absolute reassurances. The fate of three million EU citizens together with the ex-pat British appears to have been reduced to that of a bargaining chip.
The Home Office is considering various options in relation to how the EU migration will be dealt with in the days following Brexit, but has thus far refused to provide any insight as far as the government’s plans are concerned.
EU nationals who have lived in the UK for more than five years may be entitled to permanently reside in the country. In order to do so (often instructed by employers in order to keep their occupation), EU citizens are required to fill in a particularly complex 85-pages form, which has often resulted in applicant being urged to leave the country for failing to tick a box.
There seems to be however widespread confidence that Brexit negotiation will have no negative consequences on the right to stay of EU nationals and that a deal will be struck that suits all parties, to do otherwise would create a seismic disruption that would stretch to the outer borders of Europe and the cost to business would be incalculable. Many businesses would lose their position in the market and find it almost impossible to recover without the expertise of their foreign workers.