There are around 3.5 million EU nationals and their families currently living in the UK – so businesses are understandably concerned about the impact Brexit will have on their workplace with the end to free movement.
In Tuesday’s parliamentary meaningful vote, the House of Commons voted against the revised Brexit deal Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with the EU. As a result of this, MPs will return to the Commons tonight to vote on whether Britain should leave the EU without a deal.
Melanie Morton, associate and employment law solicitor at East Midlands-based law firm Nelsons, explains what the outcome of the vote could mean for EU nationals.
What will a no-deal vote mean for EU nationals who wish to remain in the UK?
If parliament agrees to leave the EU without a deal, EU nationals who are resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will have until 31 December 2020 to apply under the settlement scheme.
EU nationals and their family members who wish to remain in the UK after the implementation period must apply for pre-settled status, those with less than five years residence, or settled status – those who have five years or more residence in the UK.
This will be an online three-stage application process where applicants must prove their identity, demonstrate that they live in the UK, and declare they have no serious criminal convictions.
What about those EU nationals who come to the UK after 29 March 2019?
Those who arrive in the UK post-March will be able to stay for up to three months without a visa. After three months, they will need to apply for ‘temporary leave to remain (TLR)’, which will be valid for up to three years.
TLR will not count towards the five years and will not necessarily lead to indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence.
If a deal is agreed, what will this mean for EU nationals who wish to remain in the UK?
If MPs vote against a no-deal Brexit, a vote on extending Article 50 will take place on Thursday. If MPs support this motion, Theresa May will formally ask European leaders to the Article 50 process to be extended – the EU27 must then unanimously agree to her request.
If successful, and a deal is finally agreed, EU nationals who are resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, which is the end of the implementation period, will have until 30 June 2021 to apply under the settlement scheme, as outlined above.
Will there be a new immigration system?
The current Tier 2 visa system for non-EU workers will apply to EU workers in the same way after 30 June 2021. However, the government has promised to reform the current sponsorship system, making it more streamlined, digital and less of a burden.
What can businesses be doing now to prepare their EU employees for Brexit?
It is prudent for employers likely to be affected from a workplace perspective to take some time to consider what proportion of their workforce will be affected by the end of free movement. Following this, encourage employees to consider their status and apply for the most appropriate documentation for them.
Businesses should also generally be supportive – there is nothing worse than uncertainty and some people are very unsettled about theirs and their family’s future.