United Kingdom: Free movement for foreign nationals unaffected until formal separation

United Kingdom

Following the public vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, free movement to the United Kingdom from the European Union and vice versa will remain unaffected until formal separation procedures are introduced, which are unlikely to take effect for at least the next two years. 

There has been no formal statement on the future of UK immigration law, however a registration scheme is expected to be established for EU nationals to demonstrate that they were established in the United Kingdom prior to the separation.

Separation Process

There has been no decision by the United Kingdom as to whether free movement will be removed or limited and this will likely be a central issue in the exit negotiations.  Formal separation procedures will begin when the UK government triggers the procedure under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is the mechanism for an EU Member State to give notice that it wishes to leave the European Union.  Separation must occur within two years and notice is expected to be given in September 2016 at the earliest. Therefore, no major changes are expected in the United Kingdom until 2018.

What This Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals

While employers need to consider the implications of seeking visa and work rights for their EU workforce, and should start tracking their EU workforce for planning purposes, restrictions on EU nationals working in the United Kingdom would only be triggered following separation. British nationals currently residing in EU Member States will not face immediate change until a separation is formalised. Since there are currently no formal details on the form of any restrictions, businesses should not take any immediate action regarding their EU workforce currently in the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, EU nationals may wish to consider documenting their status ahead of separation by applying for a registration certificate (a currently optional document that EU nationals who wish to register their status in the United Kingdom can file), permanent residence or naturalisation (if eligible).  Processing times for such applications are likely to increase due to high demand.  Nevertheless, passports will not be retained for the entire processing time of such applications.