The result is IN and we are OUT.

To the disbelief of many, including the Leave campaign themselves (who were so sure that they would not win that they cancelled their own celebration party), Britain has voted to exit the European Union.

Not only have the Remain camp lost the referendum, they have also lost a leader, and so too has the country. At around 8am this morning, in an emotional speech outside Number 10, with his wife by his side, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would not lead the country past October 2016. In his statement he stated, “I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”

We have woken up to a new reality.

Both EEA nationals and migrants from outside the EU are now deeply concerned about their residency status. At present, they can rest easy over the summer, as David Cameron clearly stated this morning that he would not trigger Article 50; this was for the new, incoming Prime Minister to do in the Autumn.

The Brexit Process and Immigration

By triggering Article 50, Britain will formally notify the EU of its intention to withdraw from the EU and start the severance process. At that point, even though technically the Treaties that govern membership will no longer apply to Britain, EU laws will still apply.

During the two-year negotiation period, the UK would continue to participate in other EU business as normal, but it would not have a voice in internal EU discussions or decisions on its own withdrawal. However, EU laws would still apply to the UK and migrants would still enjoy their protection.

During the two-year ‘divorce’ negotiations:

  • What will happen to the three million or so EEA citizens living, working, studying in the UK?
  • What will the EU do with the two million or so UK nationals living, working, studying within the EU?
  • What about the family members of EEA nationals? What will their status be?
  • Over the last four years, family members of non-EEA citizens have borne the brunt of the changes brought in to restrict immigration, thereby creating the phenomena known as ‘Skype families’ – Will the same nightmare now be revisited on family members of EEA nationals too?

If you’re from outside the European Economic Area and you’re the family member, or extended family member, of an EEA national, you should start the process of applying for a Permanent Residence Card as soon as you are able.

Non EEA Migrants – Indefinite Leave to Remain

Migrants from outside the EEA can make an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) to solidify their immigration status. How long you must reside in the UK before being granted ILR depends on the type of visa you entered the country on, but generally it is five years.

People who have an investor or entrepreneur visa can apply earlier depending on the amount of money they have invested or the turnover of their business and the number of jobs they have created

Unlike PR, ILR is not automatically granted; all applicants must meet certain eligibility criteria depending on the type of visa they enjoy, including: A Residence requirement. I do not propose to go into the different ILR requirements for different types of visa in this blog but it is safe to say that changes are on the horizon.

Given today’s announcement, the talk about an Australian style points based system has become a genuine reality and it is likely that changes will follow. Pressure will be exerted on the Government to provide certainty both to individuals and a nervous labour market, who are already worried about losing large chunks of their workforce.

EEA Nationals and their families

The Leave camp, in efforts to reassure both the population and the plunging financial markets, have announced in press conferences this morning that nothing will be changing overnight.

But understandably, EEA nationals and their families, many who have been living in the UK for years, are upset and fearful. It must be remembered that for months now, they have had to listen to the Leave campaign’s fear-based rhetoric, (which often descended into outright lies), regarding the impact of EU immigration on the UK. Given some of the statements which were made, it is no wonder that for the first time, many EEA nationals do not feel welcome in the country they have come to call home.

I took a taxi this morning and the taxi driver was a Romanian national. The news reports on the radio made him upset so I asked him if he was okay. He told me: “How do you think I feel? You guys don’t want me to even be here”. I told him this wasn’t true and that tens of millions of us did want him here. London is such a diverse place I told him, that it would implode without migration. Cold comfort I suppose.

For those of you who are worried, if you are willing and able to apply for British Citizenship, do so. The most common method is to apply for naturalisation. Many EEA nationals and their family members living in the UK have been eligible for naturalisation for years, but for a variety of reasons including the length of the naturalisation process and the fee involved, (over £1,000 per application) they never have.

After all, until now, there was no reason to.

Requirements for British Citizenship/naturalisation

To apply for naturalisation, EU citizens and their family members must:

  • Be over 18 years’ old
  • Be of good character, (i.e. you do not have a criminal record)
  • Have the intention of remaining in the UK
  • Have a good knowledge of English and pass the Life in the UK test
  • Have lived in the UK for at least the five years, which triggers automatic Permanent Residence status
  • Have not contravened UK Immigration law whilst staying in the UK
  • Have held that Permanent Residence status for 12 months or more
  • Possess a Permanent Residence (PR) card (from 12th November 2015)

It is important to note that you do not have to possess a PR card for 12 months before you can apply for naturalisation, the requirement is only that you have had PR status for 12 months, which is automatically granted after an EU national has been exercising their treaty rights in the UK for five years.

Permanent Residence Cards

If you have been in the UK for five years and are a ‘qualified person’ then you can apply for a PR card to cement your rights. A PR card does not confer any new rights on an applicant; rather, it provides documentary proof of a right that is conferred automatically; that after five years living in the UK as a ‘qualified person’, you are entitled to remain permanently.

A ‘qualified person’ is defined as someone who is;

  • working
  • self-employed
  • self-sufficient
  • studying

In limited circumstances, a ‘qualified person’ can include a jobseeker.

Family members of a ‘qualified person’ can also apply for a PR card if they are, amongst other requirements:

  • a spouse or civil partner
  • a child or grandchild who is under 21 or a dependant
  • a dependent parent or grandparent
  • an unmarried partner
  • another relative (but only under certain circumstances)

Family members of an EEA national who are not yet eligible for a PR card may apply for a Residence Card if they themselves are from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

In summary

The next few days, weeks and months will be a time of great uncertainty. Both EEA nationals and their non EEA family members who are concerned about their right to live, work, study and travel have been assured by all political parties that their status will remain unchanged for the time being.

However, if you want to take measures to secure the residency status for you and your family, please feel free to give our office a call to discuss your options. We will advise you and provide you with all the support you need in such a difficult, emotional time.

Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based in the heart of London’s West End.

We have a dedicated and highly experienced multilingual immigration law team who can assist you with all your immigration matters.

For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.

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