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.
The UK will have a period of up to two years within which to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal, beginning with the triggering of art.50 of the Treaty on European Union on 29 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.
Under the current system, 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 under EU law. 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.
In its policy document, The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union: safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU, the Government has proposed that EU nationals residing in the UK before a specified date will be eligible for a new "settled" status when they have been resident for five years. The relevant date has not yet been decided but will be no earlier than 29 March 2017, when art.50 was triggered, and no later than the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Under the proposals, documents showing that an EU national has permanent residence status will be rendered invalid on the UK's withdrawal from the EU and individuals will need to apply again under the new system.
In the absence of a negotiated deal allowing freedom of movement between the UK and the EU, one option for a post-Brexit immigration framework is that the current points-based system that applies to workers from countries outside the EEA could be extended to EEA nationals (other than those who qualify for the proposed settled status, having already been resident). 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.