Open Britain Background Briefing: The Government’s plan for “Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU”

Today, the Government published a paper on the future rights of citizens from the European Union living in the UK. Open Britain has analysed the Government’s proposal in detail in this document, assessing what we believe to be the key points. 

While Open Britain welcomes the greater detail provided by the Government today, and their willingness to resolve the legal limbo EU nationals in our country are currently suffering, it would have been much better if they had sought to end this uncertainty immediately after the EU referendum, rather than waiting a year.

Many ambiguities remain, including the fact that it would appear that the Government is making this offer contingent on a reciprocal offer from the EU, uncertainties over the cost of applying for residence documents, as well as a lack of clarity as to whether EU citizens will be able to have continued access to UK services.

Open Britain believes that the Government should approach negotiations with the EU on this topic in a constructive and generous spirit, rather than suggesting in any way that EU nationals are being used as bargaining chips.

Most of all, we must ensure that Britain remains an open and tolerant country, both for EU citizens already living here and to new arrivals who will continue to be needed by our businesses and public services long into the future.

The Government plan can be seen here:

In detail

“6. The Government undertakes to treat EU citizens in the UK according to the principles below, in the expectation that the EU will offer reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states.”

“16. The UK fully expects that the EU and its member states will ensure, in a reciprocal way, that the rights set out above are similarly protected for UK nationals living across the EU before the specified date. Firstly, UK nationals in the EU must be able to attain a right equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside. Secondly, they must be able to continue to access benefits and services across the member states akin to the way in which they do now.“

“6….qualifying EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status. The administrative procedures which they will need to comply with in order to obtain these new rights will be modernised and kept as smooth and simple as possible; the application process will be a separate legal scheme, in UK law, rather than the current one for certifying the exercise of rights under EU law. Accordingly we will tailor the eligibility criteria so that, for example, we will no longer require evidence that economically inactive EU citizens have previously held “comprehensive sickness insurance” in order to be considered continuously resident; all qualifying EU citizens will be given adequate time to apply for their new residence status after our exit. There will be no cliff-edge at the point of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU;”

“10…For those who have already obtained a certificate of their permanent residence, we will seek to make sure that the application process for settled status is as streamlined as possible.

  • While Open Britain welcomes the fact that the administrative procedures for applying for legal residence status will be kept as simple as possible, nevertheless the Government needs to provide further information on the exact process in order to assist EU nationals who are looking to stay in the UK.

6to qualify, the EU citizen must have been resident in the UK before a specified date and must have completed a period of five years’ continuous residence in the UK before they apply for settled status, at which point they must still be resident…the specified date will be no earlier than the 29 March 2017, the date the formal Article 50 process for exiting the EU was triggered, and no later than the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We expect to discuss the specified date with our European partners as part of delivering a reciprocal deal…”

  • Open Britain calls on the Government to provide further clarity on the exact “specified date” which will be necessary for nationals from the EU27 living in the UK in order to make the necessary arrangements about their own careers and future lives. Open Britain resolutely rejects the fact that this date needs to be discussed between the UK Government and “our European partners” as there is nothing which is stopping the UK Government from fixing a date now.
  • Open Britain calls on the Government to clarify how setting a specified date prior to the date of departure would not contravene existing free movement  rules to which the UK has to adhere as an EU member state.

17. All EU citizens (and their families) in the UK, regardless of when they arrived, will, on the UK’s exit, need to obtain an immigration status in UK law. They will need to apply to the Home Office for permission to stay, which will be evidenced through a residence document. This will be a legal requirement but there is also an important practical reason for this. The residence document will enable EU citizens (and their families) living in the UK to demonstrate to third parties (such as employers or providers of public services) that they have permission to continue to live and work legally in the UK. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the Government may wish to introduce controls which limit the ability of EU citizens (and their families) who arrive in the UK after exit to live and work here. As such, without a residence document, current residents may find it difficult to access the labour market and services.”

“26. The grace period of blanket permission will last from exit day for a fixed period of time, which we will specify in due course but which we expect to be up to two years. Those who wish to remain in the UK beyond this point will have to apply to the Home Office for their individual permission before the period of blanket permission expires. If they do not do so, and they are not covered by any exemptions the Government puts in place and have no other basis to remain in the UK, they will no longer have permission to remain in the UK.”

  • Open Britain calls on the Government to be more specific as regards the grace period where “a fixed period of time” is not specific enough and does not do not enough to help EU nationals living in the UK on planning their future in this country.

“27. EU citizens (and their families) who already have five years’ continuous residence in the UK by the date of our departure or by the end of the grace period, will be eligible for a grant of settled status provided they have proof of five years’ residence at the time of their application (we will set out separately the evidence we want to see as proof of residence).”

  • It would appear that this document has been rushed out if the Government cannot say at this stage what documents it would consider as acceptable for proof of residence. Open Britain would welcome the Government providing clarity on this point as soon as possible.

“36. We recognise the cost of the new scheme will be important for EU nationals. The UK intends to set fees at a reasonable level. We will publish further details in due course.”

  • Open Britain calls on the Government now to provide further information on the residence document, including its cost as well as the length of its validity, both points that are of crucial importance for individuals from the EU27 who will need to apply for it. The Government should also consider the social implications of what amounts to creating a “tiered approach” to residency requirements in this country.     

“45. Currently EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals residing in the EU enjoy access to public services such as healthcare, education and social housing. Our clear intention during negotiations is to ensure that these individuals continue to enjoy these entitlements and healthcare arrangements.“

“46. The UK fully recognises that those EU citizens resident in the UK before the specified date, and UK nationals resident in EU member states, are beneficiaries of these services and we would want this to continue by agreement with the EU. UK nationals resident in the EU before a specified date will benefit in the same way from such an agreement.” 

  • Open Britain feels that the Government does not go far enough in guaranteeing the access to services by EU nationals in the UK. It is a well known fact that EU nationals contribute more in taxes than they take out in public services.[1] The Government should guarantee their existing rights now and not make them subject to the negotiations.   

“49. During negotiations, the UK will seek to protect the healthcare arrangements currently set out in EU Regulations and domestic UK law for UK nationals and EU citizens who benefit from these arrangements before the specified date. We will also seek to protect the right of UK nationals and EU citizens to obtain and benefit from the European Health Insurance Card scheme. This will ensure that EU citizens are still eligible for NHS funded healthcare in the UK and vice versa for UK nationals in the EU.”

  • While Open Britain welcomes the fact that Government is seeking to preserve current healthcare arrangements, nevertheless it is entirely unclear as to how the Government intends to main the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme whilst at the same time seeking to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. Moreover, if the Government is keen to keep the EHIC then it should make a statement to this effect as opposed to merely expressing an aspiration to do so.

“56. For mutual recognition of professional qualifications, the UK will seek to ensure that professional qualifications obtained prior to the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU continue to be recognised after the UK’s exit from the EU. The UK will also seek to ensure that where a person has begun an associated process that has not concluded by the withdrawal date, arrangements will be made to allow that process to continue. The UK will also give due regard to these professionals’ ability to practise without unfair detriment or discrimination.” 

  • Open Britain believes that the mutual recognition of professional qualifications will be an important point to take into consideration as regards future UK-EU relations. In this regard, and to simplify this issue, Open Britain calls for the United Kingdom to remain within the single market which would take away any uncertainties about future mutual recognition concerns.