Down the Brexit Rabbit Hole: How Could EU Citizens in the UK Be Affected?

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As October 31st is drawing nearer, confusion over the ways in which Brexit will affect EU citizens living, studying and working in the UK is still mounting. 

Spooky season is upon us. As pumpkins in every shape and size are starting to adorn the window displays across town, the first sign of this year’s celebrations are setting a lot of people’s teeth on edge. For reasons unknown, Halloween 2019 is Brexit Day. Even though some hopefuls continue to believe that the UK will remain in the Union despite the decision made in the 2016 referendum, the chances are slim to none.

As if keeping a level head was not difficult enough, recent newspaper headlines such as “EU nationals lacking settled status could be deported, minister says” (The Guardian) are causing even more confusion and panic among those affected. In an attempt to get a better idea of how Brexit would impact those wanting to (or continue to) live, study and/or work in the UK, I went down the Brexit Rabbit Hole. Here’s what I learnt:

As it stands, the time for a Brexit deal is running out. With the day that the UK is scheduled to leave the EU fast approaching, it is once again a race against the clock to get a deal that is agreeable to Parliament. In order to prevent a no-deal scenario, MPs have now passed a law that forces Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for yet another extension in case no agreement is reached before October 19th. In short, this leaves two options: Brexit with a deal or a further extension, which has to be agreed on by the other European countries. 

PM Boris Johnson in speaking in Parliament [Image: Jessica Taylor / AP]

While most things surrounding Brexit are pure speculation, there are concrete steps that all EU citizens living in the UK must take in both scenarios. Most importantly, everyone except those who hold an Irish passport or with indefinite leave to remain have to apply for settled or pre-settled status. This includes people who have been living and working in the UK for most of their lives but for some reason do not hold British citizenship.

For those EU, EEA or Swiss nationals currently studying at the University of Leeds who are unsure of whether they should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme: the answer is yes if you intend to continue living in the UK after June 2021. So, it is best to figure out now when it is that your degree finishes and whether you want to stay in the UK afterwards. Also take note that the United Kingdom consists of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, which means you could live in the Republic of Ireland after Brexit without having to apply for settled or pre-settled status.

The good news is that the deadline for applying is more than a year away. If Brexit happens with a deal, the application has to be done by 30 June 2021. However, remember that in the event of a no-deal – for example, if the European countries don’t agree on an extension – the deadline to apply is December 31st 2020. 

Now, moving on to specifics. Being awarded either settled or pre-settled status depends on how long you have been in the country for. As an EU, EEA or Swiss national who has been living in the UK for a continuous 5-year period, you are likely to be awarded settled status, which means that you will be able to stay for as long as you like. For further information on what qualifies as continuous residence, you can look at the step by step application guide on the UK government website. As an EU student, however, it is likely that you have not been staying in the UK continuously for this long, which means you will get pre-settled status. You then will be able to continue living, working and studying the UK; travelling in and out of the country; accessing the NHS and benefiting from pension funds. However, rather than being able to stay indefinitely, you can only stay in the UK for a further 5 years. If after this period you want to continue living here, you have to apply once more to change your status to settled.

While there are no costs in applying to the scheme, EU nationals have voiced concerns over the “simple” procedure. Apart from technical difficulties, such as the fact that in addition to identity documents and an online application form there is often extra paperwork needed to apply. A large number of EU nationals are oblivious to the procedure, which will probably cause problems in the near future. This is concerning, especially since Home Office minister Brandon Lewis has now confirmed what had been a long-time suspicion: even though EU nationals have until December 2020 to apply for this status, they will be deported if they fail to do so without an adequate reason. 

If you are one of the 3.3 million EU nationals affected, I would urge you to take a few minutes out of your day to read up on the procedure and make sure you know what you are legally required to do, regardless of what spooks this Halloween will bring.