What will happen to EU citizens after Brexit?

British Prime Minister Theresa May reassured European leaders that none of the three million EU citizens currently living in Britain would have to leave in the wake of the country’s departure from the bloc

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
26 June 2017, 12:00pm
Theresa May has brushed off her spat with Jean-Claude Juncker and said that EU leaders reacted positively to her offer on EU citizens
Theresa May has brushed off her spat with Jean-Claude Juncker and said that EU leaders reacted positively to her offer on EU citizens
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer on residency rights for EU citizens following Brexit has been dismissed as “not sufficient” by EU council chief Donald Tusk. 

However, the fate of the 3.3 million EU citizens residing in the UK – including some 27,000 Maltese migrants – remains unknown.   

On Thursday May reassured European leaders that none of the three million EU citizens currently living in Britain would have to leave in the wake of the country’s departure from the bloc.

But she was forced to defend her stance as Europe’s politicians left May with little doubt of their disappointment.

“My first impression is that the UK’s offer is below our expectations, and it risks worsening the situation of citizens,” Tusk said.

This time last year, some 27,000 Maltese people residing in the UK were eligible to vote in the referendum which sealed Britain’s exit from the EU. Now, together with the three million EU citizens living in the UK, the Maltese immigrants are asking how they will be impacted by Brexit. 

May outlined her proposal at a private dinner with other EU leaders in Brussels and details are somewhat sketchy. More information will be revealed in a government paper which will be published tomorrow, although much will remain subject to negotiation. 

May pledged that no EU national currently in Britain lawfully will be made to leave on the day of Brexit, provided British expats are given the same assurance.

According to the information available, May assured leaders that EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years by a specific cut-off date will be given the chance to take up “settled status”.

Currently, EU nationals have a right to permanent residence, which is granted after they have lived in the UK, legally and continuously, for five years. For some, the requirement for “lawful” residence may include having personal medical insurance.

May told EU leaders she was considering setting the cut-off date for residency rights as 29 March, 2017 – the day Britain triggered Article 50 and the formal divorce process. However, this cut-off date could be subject to changes during the negotiation process. 

It is not yet clear exactly what rights those people would be entitled to but it is understood they would have the right to stay in the country and receive healthcare, education, welfare and pensions as if they were British citizens.

“Let’s be clear about what we’re saying: those citizens from EU countries that came to the United Kingdom and made their lives and homes in the United Kingdom will be able to stay and we will guarantee their rights in the United Kingdom,” May said. 

Those who have not yet reached five years would be entitled to stay on until they reach the threshold for settled status while it is understood that those arriving after an as-yet-unspecified cut-off date would be given a “grace period” – expected to be two years – to obtain a work permit or return to their home countries.

Not all EU citizens living in the UK will be affected as around 84% of them already have the right to stay post-Brexit because they have been in the UK for five years and many were born in their adoptive country.

Although May said she does not want to see families split up it is not clear who would get the “settled status”.

The UK government has been under pressure to guarantee unilaterally the rights of those EU citizens who are already living in the UK. But this is dependent on UK citizens living abroad getting a reciprocal deal from other EU states. 

This has led to accusations that the government is ready to use its EU citizens as “bargaining chips” in negotiations.

Under the current system, EU nationals can move to the UK under freedom of movement rules and can take up any job – employers do not need to apply for permission to take them on.

In contrast, non-EU citizens are subject to a work-permit system, which limits entry to the UK to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...