EU nationals who want to come to the UK after Brexit

This short guide is intended to help European Economic Area (EEA) nationals who want to come to the UK after Brexit.

This guide is for general information only and is subject to change. It is not a substitute for advice from a lawyer.

You are advised to seek advice from an immigration lawyer or one of the recommended organisations listed for specific or individual advice.

(1) What happens immediately after on 31 October 2019 if there is a no deal Brexit?

Even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019, the free movement of people under EU law will not end straight away. This is because most EU law (including the law about free movement of people) will automatically become part of UK law when the UK leaves the EU.

Although the previous Government (Theresa May’s Government) introduced an immigration bill (a proposed law) in Parliament which would end free movement, it has not been passed yet and it is not clear whether the new Government (Boris Johnson’s Government) is going to proceed with this bill or introduce a new bill of their own. It is now very unlikely that an immigration bill will be passed before 31 October 2019.

Further, the previous Government (Theresa May’s Government) made legislation which provides that, if/when free movement does end, most EU nationals will be able to come to the UK and get “leave to enter” – i.e. permission to come into the UK – for 3 months.

So, after 31 October 2019, even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will have to continue to apply EU law on free movement of people.

EU citizens will still be able to turn up at the border and gain entry and will still be able to live, work and study in the UK after 31 October 2019. EU citizens will still be able to enter the UK as they as they do now, using their passport or national identity card, and using an automated gate if they are travelling on a biometric passport. This will continue until Parliament passes a new law to end free movement.

However, this does not mean that people who arrive after 31 October will be treated in the same way as those who arrived before. In particular, at the moment, EU citizens who arrive after 31 October 2019 will not be eligible to apply for pre-settled status with all the rights that brings. So, they may be in a more difficult position if/when Parliament does end free movement.

(2) What is the Government’s long-term plan?

The Government has recently published a policy paper which sets out their plans for EU immigration on a more long-term basis after a no-deal Brexit. This can be read here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/no-deal-immigration-arrangements-for-eu-citizens-moving-to-the-uk-after-brexit/no-deal-immigration-arrangements-for-eu-citizens-arriving-after-brexit

There are several key points to be aware of:

  • After Brexit, EU citizens who move to the UK will be able to apply for a new temporary immigration status, “European Temporary Leave to Remain, which will last for 36 months. The Government claims that applications for this status will be simple and free. This new status is outlined in the Government’s policy paper, but it has not been set up yet – so we cannot be specific about how it will work. The Government says that close family members of EEA and Swiss citizens (spouses/partners and dependent children under 18) will be able to apply for “European Temporary Leave to Remain” too.
  • Between 31 October 2019 and 31 December 2020, law-abiding EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members will be able to move to the UK and live, study, work and access benefits and services as they do now. They will not have to apply for “European Temporary Leave to Remain” at this stage.
  • After 31 December 2020, EEA and Swiss citizens will have to apply either for “European Temporary Leave to Remain” or for another UK immigration status in order to remain in the UK.
  • Border crossing arrangements will remain unchanged at the beginning – EEA and Swiss citizens will still be able to enter the UK as they do now, using their passport or national identity card, and using an automated gate if they are travelling on a biometric passport.

The Government has also claimed in its policy paper that it is going to make certain changes to the law:

  • It will keep out and deport more EEA and Swiss citizens who commit crimes by applying a stricter test for deportation;
  • It will remove the blue EU customs channel and require all travellers to make a customs declaration;
  • It will remove the right for EEA and Swiss citizens who arrive after Brexit to get permanent residence after 5 years;
  • It will remove the right for UK nationals who move to the EU after Brexit to bring their family members to the UK without meeting UK immigration rules (known as the “Surinder Singh” route); and
  • In 2020 it will stop EEA and Swiss citizens from being able to come to the UK using just a national identity card (i.e. they will have to use a passport).

The Government might not legally be able to do all of these things until Parliament has passed a law to end free movement. If the Government tries to do these things it is possible that it will be challenged in court. However, at this stage it is too early to say what might happen in such a situation.

(3) Conclusion

In summary in the event of a no-deal Brexit:

  • After 31 October 2019, free movement will continue and there is no change in border arrangements until Parliament passes new legislation;
  • After 31 October 2019 and until 31 December 2020, law-abiding EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members will be able to move to the UK and live, study, work and access benefits and services as they do now. They will not have to make an application to the Home Office and there should be no new border checks;
  • After December 2020, the current policy provides that EU citizens who move to the UK will be able to apply for a new temporary immigration status, “European Temporary Leave to remain”, which will last for 36 months.

The above shows there is a route for EU workers to come to the UK after Brexit in the event of a no deal Brexit, however the full details are not yet clear.

More importantly, considering the current political situation, all of the above could change in the future.

In particular, it is not clear whether there will be a change of Government, whether the Government will stick to its existing plans or change them, or whether and when Parliament will pass a law ending free movement and what that law will say.

Therefore, assuming no-deal is a viable option on 31 October 2019, if you are an EU national who wants to move to the UK, it is worth trying, if possible planning to arrive before 31 October 2019 and applying for pre-settled status if you are eligible. In the context of a no deal Brexit, this may be the best and clearest way of securing your long-term right to live in the UK at present.

All of the above is based on there being a No-Deal Brexit. In the event there is a deal, further arrangements will be made in relation to the free movement rights of EU nationals wishing to come and work in the UK.


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