EU citizens must bring family over before Brexit or face tougher immigration

The Prime Minister has decided not to heed the call from the European Commission to allow EU citizens living in the UK the right to be joined by family members after Brexit, as part of a deal on citizens’ rights for the estimated 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK. Instead, Mrs May said family dependents joining EU citizens living in the UK after Britain’s exit “will be subject to the same rules as those joining British citizens” who arrive after the cut-off point.

The Government also again rejected calls from the EU that the rights of citizens be upheld by the European Court of Justice, stating in its offer document today that the ECJ “will not have jurisdiction in the UK”, but would instead be guaranteed by UK law.

Following the PM’s statement, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted: “EU goal on #citizensrights: same level of protection as in EU law. More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s UK position.”

The differences in position – both on rights and who enforces them – underline how tough these negotiations could be in the coming weeks, as the two sides try to thrash out a deal that will affect one million Britons living in the EU and an estimated 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK. The scale of the administrative task facing the Government was also laid bare on Monday, as the Home Office said it had given itself a two-year window to process applications from EU citizens for “settled status” to protect their rights.

That could amount to over 4,000 applications a day.

“It’s most definitely a challenge for the Home Office,” said an official.

The Government said it would scale up the operations to process applications but admitted that it had not done a study on whether there will be a surge in migration before the cut-off point. The 15-page document will grant EU citizens who have lived in the UK for five years “settled status” after Britain leaves, meaning they will be treated as if they are UK citizens for healthcare, education, benefits and pensions.

There will be a “cut-off date” which will be no earlier than the day Britain triggered Article 50 – 29 March 2017 – and no later than Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. However, the Government said EU citizens had a two year window after Brexit to apply for “settled status” in order to avoid a cliff-edge. The paper also says that EU citizens who arrive before the cut-off date, but with fewer than five years as a resident, will be given time to stay in order to obtain settled status.

Those who arrive after the cut-off point can stay in the UK for a temporary period but “should have no expectation of guaranteed settled status”.

Key points from the paper include:

  1. EU citizens applying for “settled status” will have to bring over dependants before the UK’s exit from the EU. After Brexit, dependents will be subject to the standard UK immigration rules.
  2. EU citizens with “settled status” will continue to have access to UK benefits on the same basis as a comparable UK national.
  3. EU citizens who do not have five years’ residence at the time of the UK’s exit but are on “pathway” to settled status will be able to access the same benefits as now – equal access for those in work and limited benefit access for unemployed.
  4. The Government will create new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens resident here or before exit. This will be enforced by UK courts. The European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction in the UK.
  5. EU citizens will no longer be able to vote in local elections.
  6. EU nationals will be allowed to keep sending their UK benefits to other countries in the EU – such as child benefit – if they were already doing so before the “cut-off date”.
  7. The UK will continue to pay out state pension within the EU to qualifying EU nationals.
  8. The UK will protect healthcare arrangements for EU citizens who arrive in the UK before the “cut-off date” for UK nationals living in the EU.
  9. The UK will protect a UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) so British citizens can continue to benefit from free temporary healthcare while in the EU.
  10. EU citizens who arrived before the “cut-off date” will continue to be eligible for student loans, and “home fee” status in line with persons with settled status in the UK.
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