Recent media coverage has made many EU citizens worry about their rights, and those of their families, to live and work in the UK. However, there is little reason to panic if you are already living in the UK on a valid visa. There is also no cause for you to worry if you’re applying, or are planning to apply, for a UK visa.
What David Davis actually said
On July 17 newly appointed Brexit Secretary, David Davis, announced that he would consider setting a date beyond which those EU citizens who had entered the UK on valid visas would not be eligible for ongoing residency rights.
No formal date was set and no formal UK immigration policy was suggested. Yet many sensationalist news headlines have thousands of non-UK citizens believing they are a few short government decrees away from being booted out of the UK. This is not the case at all; I’ll explain why below.
What it means for EU citizens
First things first, no visas or any rights associated those visas have been suspended, modified or terminated in any way.
If you are an EEA or EU national in the UK, on your own or with your family, your status remains unchanged. Talk right now is concerning what may happen, not what will happen.
Statements, such as those of David Davis, are commonplace ahead of negotiations, as those which will follow the UK’s exit from the Union. It is worth noting that many leave campaigners are all for retaining EU migrants who have already settled within the UK’s borders, noting their net contribution to the national fiscus. Davis himself stated that he would want to pursue a “generous” agreement with the EU regarding migration and residency rights.
As an EEA national or EU citizen, it is easy to feel uneasy over what is occurring in the UK right now, especially if you are there with your family on an EEA family permit. If you hold a visa, or are thinking of applying for a visa in the UK, your visa will remain valid.
The political cost of retrospectively removing EU citizens’ visa rights will likely be far too high for the UK government to push ahead with.
The bottom line? Nothing has changed and it’s business as usual for EU citizens applying for UK visas. It will take at least two years for the UK to leave the EU and there are thousands of pieces of legislation that govern UK-EU migration, so any changes will be well thought out and communicated in advance. In time it may become more difficult to apply for a UK visa as an EU migrant, but that will only become clearer in the fullness of time.
What is worth noting is that if you’re thinking of starting a life in the UK, now might be the time to push ahead with those plans while it is still relatively easy to do so.
What it means for Commonwealth citizens and UK immigration
It’s not just EU nationals who are concerned over their UK visa statuses. South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are also a little in the dark as to how their visas will be treated in a post-Brexit world.
Much of what I’ve mentioned above can be applied in these cases: If you already have a visa, you have almost nothing to worry about. Going forward, however, things could shake out a bit differently for Commonwealth citizens.
It is entirely possible that more new visa agreements could be reached between the various countries and the UK post-Brexit. This is by no means a certainty, but it remains a possibility.
We have already seen both Australian and Canadian government officials call for the creation of post-Brexit treaties as soon as possible, to ensure strong economic ties between themselves and the UK remain intact. This indicates that these countries could try and create more favourable migration ties with the UK.
There has even been a relative thawing of migration relations between South Africa and the UK, which could further soften should the UK renegotiate its migration treaties with South Africa.