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BREXIT UPDATE: Information for EEA Nationals in the UK 

Message from the Home Secretary: 

I’m proud that so many EU citizens like yourself have built your lives in the UK and made it your home. We value your contribution which is why the Government put safeguarding your rights as the first priority in the Brexit negotiations. 
 
I am absolutely delighted that we have now reached an agreement with the EU that does this. I know that at times you’ve had an anxious wait while the fine details were ironed out, but we wanted to get it right and we have always had you at the forefront of our thoughts. 
 
We have always said that we will continue to recognise the value you bring to our society, and that we will remain an open and diverse country. Hopefully this deal provides reassurance that we will do just that. 
 
The agreement we have reached ensures the rights you and your family currently have remain broadly the same with access to healthcare, benefits and pensions protected. And your existing close family members living outside the UK retain the right to join you in future. These rights will be cemented in UK law meaning you can live your life as you do now with the security of knowing they won’t change. Irish citizens also have their existing rights, associated with the Common Travel Area arrangements, protected. 
 
Away from the negotiations, my team at the Home Office has been working hard to build the digital system that you’ll use to get your new status. It’s being designed from scratch to be quick and simple to use. There won’t be bureaucratic hurdles – those processing applications will work in your favour. 
 
What’s more, it will cost no more than the fee a British person pays for a passport and if you already have valid permanent residence documentation it will be free. There will be support for the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, and we’re working with EU citizens’ representatives and embassies to ensure the system works for everyone. 
 
You do not need to do anything just yet. You will see more detail about the settled status scheme from us in the new year and we expect applications will open during the second half of 2018. In the meantime, please do share this message with your friends and family so that they too can stay up to date through our mailing list. 
 
I hope that the agreement we have reached provides certainty to you and your family ahead of Christmas. EU citizens, like yourself, who have made the UK their home are our family, our neighbours and our colleagues and we want you to stay. 
 
Have a very happy Christmas. 
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
Amber Rudd - Home Secretary 
 
Whilst the overall intention of the announcement is welcome, and I still believe the rights of EU and EEA nationals will be protected, I am yet to be convinced we have a finalised system. My comments urge some caution (as explained below), and highlight there MAY still be change. 

Ratification still required – plus no mention of EEA or Swiss citizens. 

Para 2 – States “We have reached an agreement,” this is not as clear as it might sound. The “agreement” is that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the next stage – all proposals will still need to be ratified by Parliament and by all EU countries. It is far from certain that we have seen the finalised rules. One area of concern is for EEA and Swiss Citizens – there has been no mention of the regulations in respect of people from these countries. 

Borderline vote of no confidence? 

Para 3 – refers to the border between NI and Eire (otherwise defined as the land border between the UK and the EEA!). Elsewhere in Europe, land borders are clearly demarcated, not so in Ireland. Add in legislation and agreements from before either the UK or EIRE were part of the EU, plus the Good Friday agreement and we have a very complex situation. Then add a dose of politics and we have the potential for a huge mess. 
 
The UK Government has agreed to ‘full alignment’ of regulations between Northern Ireland and EIRE. As Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK, that means ‘full alignment’ between the UK and the EU! The DUP, have said that in order for Teresa May to rely on their support, ‘Northern Ireland must not be treated differently to the rest of the UK.’ If the DUP pull their support, there could be a vote of no confidence in the Government and without a majority in Parliament; it is far from certain they would survive. That could mean a general election. 
 
I do not mean to scaremonger, but to illustrate that we are far from a ‘done deal’ We also have the issue raised by Nicola Sturgeon saying that if Northern Ireland can have a different relationship with the EU, then surely there is no reason why other parts of the UK couldn’t have a different agreement – interestingly Sadiq Khan picked up on this and said “there is a special case for London …” 
 
Even if all the above is sorted out, we still need to understand what ‘full alignment’ means. It seems to mean different things to different people. The UK is saying that there can be different systems running in parallel – the EU says ‘full alignment’ is similar to the agreements with EEA countries where in order to trade with the EU, the EEA countries have to adopt EU rules and regulations! Free movement anyone? 

Quick and simple system relief 

Para 4 – It is reassuring to hear that UKVI are already working on a process and online application method – given there will be a huge number of people needing the new status, this is welcome news indeed. The current process results in delays of up to 6 months (which can be a breach of the UK’s obligations under EU law!) – a quick and simple process will be needed. 

Permanent Residence Card? Yes for savings and security 

Elsewhere UKVI and the government have announced that EU nationals will still need to prove residency over a five-year period to gain the new ‘settled status’; there have been a few concessions such as removing the need for comprehensive sickness insurance in certain circumstances. Any application under the new scheme is still likely to need some proof of residence and employment in the UK – this may be as simple as proving NI contributions, or may require more detailed proof. 
 
Para 5 – It is also welcome that the cost will be no more than a British Passport (currently £72.50) this may only be £7.50 more than the cost of the current EU residence card, but is still 12% more! The application will be free to anyone who already holds ‘permanent residence’ so to save yourself a few pounds (£30 for a family of four) then apply now! 
 
Para 6 – Acknowledges that the new system is not yet up and running (because it might need to change?), but will be later in 2018 – so their advice is not to apply for the current residence card, but to wait for the new system. I fundamentally disagree, and not just because I want to save you £7.50! Applications to switch from the current residence card to the new status will be free, so there is a cost saving, but there is more to this. 
 
Settled status is a concept to be enshrined in UK law, which is subject to debate and change through Parliament. The current regulations for EU and EEA nationals are enshrined in EEA law and arguable through the European Courts. The European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38 defines the right of EU citizens to live and work in all EEA countries (there are exceptions for criminals and public security). It is not even a requirement to have any documentation to prove this right. 
Applying under current regulations means the application (or more accurately –confirmation of rights) is through a known established process. Waiting means some uncertainty, slightly higher cost and the need to prove residency anyway! Even without the ‘better the devil you know’ attitude, why would you wait? 
 
In summary, the landscape is clearer now that we now understand the Government’s intentions – that is a welcome move. But, there remains a chance that things will change. What is not in question is there will be a need for a residence status in the future – what better way of proving that than with the Government’s own (current) document? Our advice therefore remains: apply now. 
 
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