Rights of EU Workers in the UK Following Brexit

Rights of EU Workers in the UK Following Brexit

The free movement of labour is one of the four principles of the European single market. In late August 2016, it was reported that the number of citizens of European Union (EU) countries living and working in the UK had risen above one million for the first time.

Of course this news came after the referendum vote in June when the UK people decided to leave the EU. This means there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK will remain unchanged.

The first thing to note here is that the UK is still a member of the EU as of now. The country will not leave the Union until two years after Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty has been invoked, and some reports have suggested that this may not occur until late 2017, which would mean the UK would remain a member of the EU for at least three more years. So as of now, all citizens of other EU countries are free to come to the UK, all UK citizens can work freely in other member states, and all EU citizens currently in the UK are entitled to remain. Press reports indicate that some companies were inundated with calls from EU employees the day after the referendum, with some asking if they were still entitled to come into work.

Then once the UK does leave, the question of its precise relationship with Europe is yet to be determined. The UK may adopt a relationship similar to that currently enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland, who have to accept free movement of labour in return for access to the European single market.

If the eventual arrangement is one under which the UK does not have to accept free movement of labour – and after all this is what the Prime Minister has said is her preferred outcome – then what will happen to EU workers already in the UK is very unclear.

A number of prominent employment lawyers have urged the Government to clarify the position, but in the meantime, Annabel Mace, head of business immigration at law firm Squire Patton Boggs, outlined some steps UK workers could take. Ms Mace said:
“EEA [European Economic Area] nationals who have been in the UK for five continuous years as a ‘qualified person’ (e.g. student, worker, self-sufficient or self-employed person) may already have acquired permanent residence and should, as a precaution, consider applying for a document to confirm their status. EEA staff who have been working here for less than five years can apply for a registration certificate to confirm their status as a qualified person.”
Companies may be asked by their EU workers to provide details of their employment, residence and tax in the UK, in order to assist with any such application.

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