Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in early November 2017 revealed that the number of European Union nationals working in the United Kingdom had reached a record high, despite Brexit. The figures suggest that even with the uncertainty over Britain’s future, EU nationals have not left the country en masse, as it was feared they might.
In particular, there has been an increase in the number of Spanish employees in the UK. If you are from Spain and working in the UK, or considering a move here, you may be wondering what Brexit means for you and your employment rights. As we are still very much in the negotiation phase, final decisions are yet to be made and new systems to be put in place, meaning there remains much uncertainty for Spanish and other EU workers in the UK. For the time being, the situation will remain the same, and it is important to take this time to assess your options and be prepared for the changes ahead.
What is the current situation?
On 29 March 2017, the UK triggered Article 50, which officially started its withdrawal from the EU. The UK now has two years – until 29 March 2019 – in which to negotiate the terms of its exit with the other EU member states. During this time, laws regulating important subjects relevant to EU workers, including employment rights and immigration, will need to be addressed.
Can I accept a permanent job in the UK?
Yes, you can accept a permanent job in the UK now and, according to Government proposals discussed below, after Brexit. Your employer has a legal duty, under domestic legislation, not to discriminate against an employee based on their nationality (Equality Act 2010, s.9).
Will I have to leave the UK post-Brexit?
If you are lawfully working and living in the UK, it is highly likely you will be entitled to remain in Britain post-Brexit. A Government document sent to the European Commission in early November 2017 set out details of a new “settled status” for EU employees who wish to remain in the UK following Brexit. The new status will allow EU nationals to stay living and working in the UK and receive the same rights as citizens – including employment, education, welfare and healthcare – without having to go through the costly process of applying for citizenship. The settled status application system will be efficient, affordable and digital, the Government has promised.
I have lived in the UK for five years
Settled status will mean EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years continuously and legally will have lawful residence.
I have lived in the UK for less than five years
Those who do not meet the five-year criteria can apply for “temporary status”. This is intended to allow EU nationals to remain in the UK long enough to meet the five-year threshold for settled status.
Spanish employees should be prepared to provide evidence of their continuous residence in the UK, and this can be done now by obtaining a Permanent Residence Document, which can be exchanged for settled status when the time comes to apply. The period in which an application can be made for settled status is expected to last for two years following the UK’s exit from the EU.
What if I move to the UK after Brexit?
If you decide to move to the UK for work after Brexit, the Government has suggested that a “grace period” will apply. During this period, which is likely last for two years from the date of your arrival, you will need to apply for another type of immigration status, for example a work permit, to allow you to lawfully live and work in the UK.
What about my non-EU family members?
EU workers in the UK have raised concerns about whether their non-EU family members will be able to remain in the country. Under the Government’s proposals, non-EU relatives of EU nationals who are living lawfully in the country before the Brexit “cut-off” date (which is likely to be the same date that the UK leaves the EU) will be given “deemed leave” and entitled to apply for settled or temporary status.
Contact our Employment Law Specialists in London