IMMIGRATION MAY 2017
MESSAGE OF HOPE
A reassuring message of hope appears here and there, at strategic places, on the Home Office website: There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK while the UK remains in the EU. Elsewhere on the website the explanation is slightly expanded: The UK remains a full member of the EU until we exit the EU. All the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in place until then.
This is indeed comforting for those affected. Various rumours have been circulating that the Home Office was intending to take sudden and decisive action to remove immigration rights from the Europeans. This, we can be confident, is not the case. If Brexit happens some time in 2019, as is possible or likely, we have a couple of years in which to reflect, meditate and plan. So, we can de-escalate from Red Alert to Yellow Alert.
However, something else on the website looks dangerously bland: EU nationals who have lived in the UK for more than 5 years do not need to do anything as a result of Article 50 being triggered. Permanent residence status is a right that EU nationals can get under EU law. This will not change while the UK is part of the EU.
This sounds reassuring, but we have to read it carefully. All it says for certain is that rights to Permanent Residence will remain the same as they are at the moment until Brexit happens. So somebody who reaches five years in the medium-term future, before Brexit happens, will be able to apply for Permanent Residence, in the normal way. But what about somebody who will reach five years after Brexit? Will they be able to apply for Permanent Residence? This is the question, and we don’t know the answer yet. What we do know is that the Government is planning some new type of visa scheme for Europeans. The dreaded words “Australian points-based system” have surfaced now and again. The fact is however that we already have an “Australian points-based system”: it’s called the “points-based system” (i.e. Tiers 1, 2, 4 and 5). Perhaps the Home Office have forgotten. Could it be that the Home Office is planning a separate points-based system for Europeans? And, if so, will it be easier and less onerous than the famously complicated points-based system we have at the moment? One ray of hope in this respect emanates from the simple fact – and as many have enunciated – that some work sectors in the UK would collapse without the Europeans to staff it.
We must hope and – if we are religiously inclined – pray for the best. We must remember that the Home Office has to deal with realities and, in this case, realities may weigh heavily in favour of a relatively liberal visa regime for Europeans after Brexit.