With just over a year to go until the UK leaves the EU, there is a great deal of concern around whether EU nationals will be able to obtain the appropriate UK immigration permission before they no longer benefit from EU free movement rights.  The UK and the EU have reached agreement over citizens rights which means that EU nationals will be governed by the UK immigration system once the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.  During the proposed implementation period, EU nationals will be deemed to have UK immigration permission to remain in the UK which will enable them to remain in the UK under the same terms as they do now.  In the meantime, they will be expected to apply for and obtain new UK immigration permission which enables them to remain in the UK after the end of the implementation period.  For those EU nationals in the UK before 29 March 2019, this will involve them applying for settled status (a form of permanent residence) if they have lived in the UK for five years or more or a temporary residence permit which will enable them to complete the five year qualifying period for settled status.  Those EU nationals entering the UK after 29 March 2019 will, by the end of the implementation period, have to apply for immigration permission under the UK immigration system which is in place at the time.

We are expecting to receive further details of the criteria and application procedure for settled status and temporary residence permits over the next few months and more information about the structure of the future UK immigration system towards the end of the year.  However, there is still the issue that if all the approximately 3.5m EU nationals who are currently in the UK wish to remain here post-Brexit, the UK Home Office is going to have to invest in significant additional resources if all these individuals are going to be issued with the appropriate status before the end of a two year implementation period.  In addition, although we are hearing from our clients that there has indeed been a drop in the number of job applications they receive from EU nationals, net EU migration is still over 100,000 a year so the number of applications that the Home Office will need to deal with is going to continue to increase.

UK business is therefore worried that , even though the Home Office plans to at least triple the workforce considering UK immigration applications and make a substantial investment in a new IT system, this will still not be sufficient to enable it to process all the applications that will need to be completed before the end of a two year implementation period.  This could lead to individuals being forced to remain in the UK after the end of the implementation period until their applications are approved.  This is why a number of commentators are calling for a longer implementation period than the proposed two years to give EU citizens the confidence that the UK will have sufficient time to process all the required immigration applications without disrupting the ability of those who are making these applications to travel to and from the UK.