Friday, 24 June 2016

European in London? Here's what's going to happen to you

In a great irony, there is likely to be an increase in immigration from Europe over the next two years as people hope to be grandfathered in to a future visa regime.

Many of my friends who are non-English EU citizens living in London (a category I myself used to be in) have asked me today what's going to happen to them. 

They live and work in the UK on the basis of their EU passport. What happens when the UK pulls out of the EU, and freedom of movement across the channel comes to an end? Are they going to be immediately deported?

I've reassured them that most likely some kind of arrangement will be made for those EU citizens who have been living in the UK a long time. They're not all going to be immediately deported. But some of them might. I think it is likely that in two years, EU immigrants already in the country are going to have to apply for permission to remain, on the basis of the existing tiered visa regime.

Here are the different possibilities:

Scenario 1: The UK joins the EEA

The 'Norway model' was often used by the Leave camp during the campaign about what the UK's future relationship with the EU could look like. 

Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are in an agreement with the EU called the European Economic Area. It was created in the mid 90s after referenda in those countries rejected joining the EU, but a majority in their parliaments were for it. It gives them access to the EU's single market. In return, they have to follow almost all EU law (without getting to vote on it, because they are not members).

One of those laws is free movement. A Norwegian citizen has the right to live and work in any EU country, and an EU citizen has the right to live and work in Norway - without a visa. Though not in the EEA, Switzerland has an arrangement with the EU that is essentially the same thing.

So if the UK were to join the EEA, EU citizens could continue to live and work in the UK with no change.

But, as I've written before, it's almost inconceivable that the UK will join the EEA. For one thing, joining a club that would require the UK to follow all the same laws as before, yet lose its vote in making those laws, would leave it worse off than it was before. Controlling borders was a central argument of the leave campaign. There is no way the new Brexit government would put the UK in an arrangement with the same free movement rules.

In any event, Norway has said it doesn't want the UK to join the EEA. And Norway can veto the entry (as can any individual EU country).

So although this would be the easiest outcome for EU citizens living in London, I'm afraid it is unlikely.

Scenario 2: UK enters free trade agreement with the EU with no freedom of movement

This is the most likely scenario, and will mean EU citizens no longer have the automatic right to live and work in the UK.

EU citizens who have been living and working in the UK for decades will then have to apply for a visa in the same points-based immigration scheme that applies to someone from Africa, Asia or the Americas. The fact that they are already living in the UK would probably give them enough points to have the visa accepted. 

But this isn't automatic, and the fact that this will be done on a case-by-case basis means that some people will probably be deported. For instance, someone who does not currently have a job, or who has been in the UK only a few years, stands a decent chance of getting kicked out.

Given that there was an implicit promise by the Leave campaign to deport people, a large part of the British public is now expecting deportations. There have to be some scalps.

Scenario 3: UK suspends free movement before leaving EU

With this in mind, we are likely to see a surge in immigration from the continent to the UK over the next two years while the country is still an EU member. These people would hope to find a job during this period and then be allowed to keep it under the new immigration regime.

If this flow becomes too intense, I can envision a situation where the Brexit government decides to suspend free movement rights for new people coming in within the next months.They would have to pay a fine for doing so while still an EU member state, but given that they are leaving soon they would probably not be called upon to pay it.

What happens to the existing EU residents in that case is not clear. Perhaps the government will start already rolling them into the tiered visa regime at that time. But it seems unlikely they would do that until they know what their future relationship with the EU is going to be.

Brits living in Europe

So it's very complicated - and this doesn't even touch upon the situation of British citizens living in the rest of Europe. That, I'm afraid, is much more complicated. It is unlikely that the EU will grant any free movement rights to UK citizens that are not reciprocal, so those people will have to apply to their host countries for a visa to remain. 

The conditions for allowing them to do so will vary by country and would not be co-ordinated at EU level. It can be expected that a large number of those people will be deported, particularly retirees that do not draw an income in their country of residence.

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