The limitation of freedom of movement rights of European citizens has been highlighted as a top priority in the UK's exit negotiations with the European Union. A "hard Brexit" could mean that EU nationals – including EEA and Swiss nationals, who currently enjoy the same freedom of movement rights – arriving in the UK after the trigger of Article 50 will not be entitled to remain permanently in the UK. However, the fate of the 3.6 million EU nationals already in the UK exercising freedom of movement rights is in doubt. The Government has indicated that their rights to settle in the UK would be protected, but this is likely to be contingent on the Government's ability to negotiate a reciprocal privilege for UK citizens living in the EU.
In Theresa May's speech on 17 January, she confirmed that the Government is treating the limitation of freedom of movement rights of European citizens as a top priority in the UK's exit negotiations with the European Union. It is therefore highly likely that a "hard Brexit" will result in EU nationals facing new travel and work related restrictions in the UK.
On the basis that Article 50 will be triggered around 15 March 2017, we recommend that companies and their EU national employees, whose legal rights to work in the UK are based on European Treaty rights, take steps to obtain documentation from the Home Office recognising their rights of residence or permanent residence in the UK as soon as possible. While there is currently no legal requirement for them to obtain such documents, it is highly likely that those who have formal status documents will be in a more favourable position than those who do not, should the immigration rules change.
For EU nationals who have not yet been living in the UK for more than five years, our advice remains to apply to the Home Office for Registration Certificates evidencing their right to live and work in the UK.
Those who have been living in the UK for more than five years may be deemed permanently resident in the UK. As such, they could apply for a Permanent Residence card to evidence that they are permanently resident in the UK and free from immigration restrictions and subsequently apply to become a British citizen.