With only a week to go until the referendum, Brexit campaigning remains at fever pitch. Jamie Dimon raised the temperature recently by suggesting big banks might retrench in the City if Brexit comes to pass and move jobs elsewhere. While most in the City would probably favour current bookies’ odds on Brexit over more pro-Brexit opinion polls in predicting the outcome, the result is too close to call.
What is clear, however, is that the Leave rally in the polls has been largely due to a focus on restricting EU immigration. For the many thousands of EU citizens working as City professionals, therefore, there is cause for concern that if Brexit were to happen, any negotiation on the trading relationships with EU may well not include the current full free movements rights EU nationals enjoy.
So what would happen to EU nationals working in the City if the Brexit camp does win? While the Brexit camp have indicated they may bring in restrictions on free movement immediately (and most likely in breach of EU law) this appears to be directed at preventing a “mass influx” of new immigrants rather than at expelling those already here. EU nationals who have lived and worked in the City for more than five years will have already automatically acquired Permanent Residence under EU law. And for those who don’t have that status, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for the UK to require EU nationals to apply for work permits when the UK formally leaves – there are just too many people here and the Home Office simply couldn’t cope.
So what should EU nationals do now to protect their position in the event of a leave vote? The most important thing is to obtain confirmation of their EU status, either as an EU permanent resident or as an EU national who is lawfully in the UK in employment, self-employment or as a self-sufficient person with private medical insurance. While we don’t know exactly what new system would come into being for EU nationals on Brexit, having this confirmation will mean that continuing to live in the UK and changing jobs will most likely be easier and will differentiate those already here from those arriving at a later date, who may be subject to stricter requirements.
- Those who have been in the UK for five years or more – should apply to the Home Office for confirmation of their EU Permanent Residence. This requires completion of an 85 page application form, a small fee of £65 and a lot of documentary evidence to show that the EU national has been continuously employed, self-employed or self-sufficient for the full five years. The Home Office will want to see everything – employment records, tax returns, bills and bank statements proving work and residence, as well as details of travel in and out of the country.
- Those who have been in the UK for less than five years – should apply for a Registration Certificate. Very few EU nationals ever apply for these but they can actually be obtained on the same day through a trip in person to the Home Office. These EU nationals should also make sure that they keep all documentation about their work and residence in the UK (bills, bank statements etc) and have private medical insurance at any time they are not working. They should avoid travelling for more than 6 months a year if possible as this could affect their ability to get PR in the longer term.
What if we vote to remain? For the most part, the status quo would prevail. However it is possible modest changes may be introduced to in-work benefits and child benefits of EU citizens working here and there could be significant restrictions on the rights of EU citizens to bring in non-EU family members. Those working in the City should not be too concerned about these changes as they would not be eligible for these benefits and would most likely meet the income and accommodation requirements of the UK partner and spouse rules. Whether the UK could impose the same English language test applied to spouses of British Citizens on spouses and partners of EU Citizens is yet to be seen!
Anyone who needs immigration advice should consult their HR department or a lawyer.
Nick Rollason is head of immigration at Kingsley Napley LLP