Get Ready for Brexit: Advice to EU Nationals in the UK

Fellow EU nationals, it’s time to get organised.

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I’ve been living in London for almost four years. The struggles I’ve had living here have been significant — they’ve galvanised me into someone who’s pretty determined that London will be my home for a while. Brexit day, however, is in just over 5 months. This ominous date on the horizon is on my mind a lot lately. The 29th March represents the end of Britain’s membership of the EU; the end of freedom of movement. What is my future in my chosen home?

As things stand…

…We don’t have a deal. We have no clarity on what happens next, and talk over transitional periods (an “implementation phase”) to help with the changeover have not led to any agreements thus far.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released a report which discusses the impact of this ‘no deal’ situation on several major British industries. An attempt to convince the government to get on and make a deal, it also pushes for ‘open and controlled’ EU immigration. But nothing has been decided to date.

If you’re like me and living in the UK as an EU national, the future looks pretty foggy. I feel fortunate that I have been in the UK long enough that I’m not so far away from applying for Permanent Residency. But if you’re just establishing your life here, or want to do so soon, things may get more complicated.

Here’s what you can do to get ready:

Get acquainted with the gov.uk website

Being as informed as possible is going to get important. You’re about to get very familiar with the gov.uk website, which does contain all the information you’re likely to need. Certainly, lots of changes are on the way, but starting here and learning to navigate the seemingly endless follow-on pages will help you to at least start down the road of getting life together post-Brexit.

Register for the new app and ‘settled status’

Because we all love an app, the UK government are trialling a smartphone registration app which will let UK-based EU citizens register for ‘settled status’. This means you’ll be able to stay in the UK for as long as you like and apply for citizenship after 5 years. It’s meant to help you come and go without losing your right to live and work in the UK — potentially going for up to 5 years outside the UK without losing this status. Note:

How long you can live outside the UK is still subject to approval by Parliament

This means that you are probably best advised not to spend significant amounts of time outside the UK if you’re planning on moving on to citizenship.

It’s meant to help make your life easier (let’s see if it actually does…), so that the 3.6 million EU nationals currently living in the UK will be able to more straightforwardly secure their residency status in the UK after Brexit.

The app is due to be released by the end of this year, and requires you to undertake the following steps:

  • Answer basic questions about your nationality, immigration history and criminal background;
  • Scan your passport;
  • Take a photograph of yourself.

This is one way to start making sure you’re not booted unceremoniously from the UK. Keep an eye out!

Research the right to a British Passport

Obviously the ideal aim is to get the right to stay, not merely to ‘settle’ (or rather, the right to settle is a good precursor to obtaining the right to stay, and ideally that is what you’d do if you intend to live in the UK super long term).

EU nationals are automatically granted Permanent Residence when they have lived in the UK for five years, at present. You can also get another document before that time — an EEA Residence Card — which proves you are a resident in the UK. It’s really just an intermediary document, that may help you re-enter the country more quickly when you go on holiday, but won’t help you stay. You can easily apply for this card using a simple form, and the cost of the application is £65 per person. May not be worth it if you’re nearly at the point of citizenship, like I am, but could help bring peace of mind otherwise.

For a more ‘permanent’ solution, you need a British passport. This means that whatever Brexit shitfest comes our way, you will be able to officially hold onto your rights in the UK. To qualify, you need to have lived in the UK for at least 12 months while holding an EEA Permanent Residence Card. If a Brexit deal is reached, the two-year “implementation period” should count towards these 12 months (but if you’re not at that point yet, it’s very unclear…).

You must also prove you can speak English and pass a Life in the UK Test in order to obtain that foolproof document. That’s the fun do-you-know-which-king-did-what test, a bizarre collection of historical, cultural and other British facts jammed into an expensive test. Just another way to remind this Australian-born Italian that she really couldn’t care less about cricket (Yep, I’m really dreading having to learn this stuff! But gotta do what you gotta do).

Get your papers together and start keeping notes

You’re going to need a lot of different things in order to complete the application. Primarily, you have to show you’ve been employed or studying for the 5 years continuous living in order to qualify for Permanent Residency. This could include any details of paid work (e.g. P60 documents), information about your job search, or bank statements to show you’ve received an income. You should gather any other documents that will help prove you’ve been residing in the UK, like council tax documents, utility bills, bank statements or NHS correspondence. Fun stuff, I know. But it pays to get organised.

You will also need proof of identification, such as a passport or national identity card. You might also need birth certificates, adoption certificates, marriage certificates or any other documents which prove a relationship. This is mostly useful if you’re applying as a family member or partner of either an EU national who qualifies or a current British national. But if you’re just applying for yourself as a regular EU national resident in the UK, the big thing you’ll likely have to turn in is the passport/identity card. Annoying, I know. I’m definitely looking forward to that awkward however-long where I don’t have my own passport because the UK is reviewing my right to stay… This should be returned to you, but you might be grounded in the UK in the meantime.

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Take note of the common problems

Gov.uk sets out the following reasons as to why people get rejected in their applications:

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Some straightforward things in there. So keep those papers together, send in your proof of identity and keep track of when you’ve left the UK for any significant amount of time.

Don’t panic

The reality is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. Details are not clear, policies are not secured. For other EU nationals, all I can say is don’t panic. I know how anxiety-inducing this period is. But there are still options, and there’s still hope.

I remember well that day, discovering that my chosen home had elected to leave the EU essentially because they didn’t want people like me settling in the country. It’s a heartbreak that’s hard to convey to those who are not in this situation. The outpouring of apologies I received from close British friends who voted to Remain was touching.

Ultimately, however, I do feel lucky and glad to know that the UK is not my only option. Perhaps you don’t like the idea of being made to go home, but if it really came to it, I’d much rather live in a nation that was happy to have me. I still think that’s the UK, for now. But if something went terribly wrong, I trust myself having the resilience to work on a Plan B.

Good luck fellow EU nationals — hope to see you for a cheeky one down at the pub (Do I pass the Life in the UK test now?!). Cheerio!

Written by

Trying to live better. Writing on Mental Health, Relationships, and Living Ethically. Editor/Podcaster.

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