With no end to the Brexit uncertainty in sight, prudent EU nationals and their non-EU family members are taking action now to secure their immigration status. This article focuses on the upcoming changes and what steps those affected should take to protect their rights.
What are the changes?
After Britain leaves the EU, all EU nationals and their non-EU family members will have to register under the EU Settlement Scheme. If there is a deal then free movement will be preserved for EU nationals arriving up until 31 December 2020. If there is no-deal, however, then free movement will end on 29 March 2019 and only EU nationals resident in the UK by that date will be eligible for the Scheme.
Permanent residence document and British citizenship
Under the current system, any EU national or their family member, who has acquired a right of permanent residence (PR), can apply for a PR document, but until recently few bothered doing so. Under the rights-based system of EU law, the PR document does not confer any rights: you acquire PR on completing five continuous years in the UK as a worker, self-sufficient person or student and the document merely declares the fact you have PR.
However, in November 2015 there was a change in law requiring any EU national (and their family member) to hold a PR document before becoming British. Furthermore, the uncertainty around Brexit has led to a spike in the numbers of people seeking to have their rights confirmed through the PR document.
So what should I do?
What an individual should do depends on their individual circumstances and whether their ultimate goal is to become British. Those taking the more relaxed approach can wait until the EU Settlement Scheme opens and then register on the Scheme. However, if you choose this route then you would need to wait for a year from being granted Settled Status, before becoming eligible for British citizenship.
Alternatively, many individuals may be able to take advantage of a quicker and more secure route to British citizenship – by applying now for a PR document and then, on receiving the document, making an immediate application for citizenship. Many EU nationals and family members who have lived in the UK for at least five years could be eligible.