What impact will Brexit have on EU nationals currently working in the UK?
It is not yet known what rules on immigration and free movement of people will be in place following the UK's withdrawal from the EU. However, employers can reassure employees who are EU nationals that there will be no immediate change in their right to live and work in the UK. The same is true of nationals of the other countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and of Switzerland.
EEA and Swiss nationals who have lived in the UK for five years or more as a "qualified person" have acquired the right to permanent residence. A qualified person is someone who is working, studying, self-employed, self-sufficient or looking for work. A person who has qualified for permanent residence can apply for a document certifying this.
The UK will have a period of up to two years within which to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. This period begins when the UK triggers art.50 of the Treaty on European Union, which the Prime Minister has said will happen by the end of March 2017. It is possible for the two-year period to be extended only with the unanimous agreement of the other EU member states. The rights of EU nationals to come to the UK to live and work in the future will be a key element of the negotiations. It is likely that EU nationals who are already living in the UK will be afforded special status, with reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in EU countries.
One option for an immigration framework, in the absence of a negotiated deal allowing freedom of movement between the UK and the EU, is that the current points-based system that applies to workers from countries outside of the EEA could be extended to EEA nationals. For most employers, the main route for employing foreign workers under this system is by sponsoring skilled workers, where they can show that there is a shortage of suitably qualified applicants within the resident labour market. There is scope for a points-based system to be extended to allow the employment of non-skilled workers as well as skilled workers.