Brexit has thrown up a lot of uncertainty about the relationship between the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU). One particular concern is the EU’s policy of Freedom of Movement for citizens of its member states and how Brexit will affect this right.
The UK officially left the EU on 31 January, 2020. The country has now entered a transition period in which many of the EU’s laws and policies still apply until the end of the year, while British and European politicians negotiate the exact terms of the relationship between the UK and the EU going forward.
With a “No-Deal Brexit” looking unlikely, Freedom of Movement between the EU and the UK for the majority of travellers will no longer be possible after the end of 2020, when the transition period expires.
If Freedom of Movement ends, this could lead to a number of functional changes in how visitors arrive in the UK from the European Union. Whereas now it is possible for EU citizens to travel to Britain and Northern Ireland to live and work without a visa, in some situations post-Brexit it may become necessary to hold a British visa or UK visa waiver.
What is freedom of movement?
Freedom of Movement is one of the Four Economic Freedoms enshrined in the EU Treaty of Rome. It guarantees that citizens of the Union may move freely between countries to work and live without discrimination. Each country implements these rules within its own national framework to allow EU citizens to register as residents and seek employment within its borders.
How these changes could affect EU citizens
The UK Government has stressed that visitors from the EU will still be able to travel to the UK for short periods of time for holidays and to visit family members.
However, in the event of an immediate end of Freedom of Movement, the ability for citizens of the EU to spend longer periods of time in the UK or to seek employment in the UK job market will no longer be automatically guaranteed. This is likely to affect:
- Students looking to study in the UK
- EU citizens wishing to work in the UK
- EU citizens intending to settle in the UK with a spouse or partner
- EU citizens seeking to live in retirement in the UK
The framework for seeking permission to study or work in the UK as a national of an EU country post-Brexit is still in the process of being decided.
EU citizens planning to stay for periods of longer than 90 days post-Brexit, will be required to apply for a temporary permit. This would be valid for up to three years.
Those already living in the UK, have been advised to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme, which is the Government’s transitory arrangement for the nearly 3 million EU citizens living in Britain. It is possible to apply for this scheme until December 2020.
How these changes will affect UK citizens
If Freedom of Movement ends, UK citizens will no longer have the automatic right to reside and work within the European Union.
It is expected that British nationals will still be able to travel to the EU for holidays and short stays. They will be required to have at least 6 months’ validity remaining on their passport and should also ensure they have appropriate holiday health insurance coverage.
However, if Freedom of Movement ends, this is likely to negatively affect:
- UK citizens planning to retire in EU countries
- Businesses planning to hire EU nationals after 2020
- Students wishing to study in the EU
- UK citizens seeking employment in an EU country
- UK citizens who work regularly in the EU
At present, the framework with which UK companies can employ nationals of EU countries is yet to be established. However, it is advised that UK companies who have hired EU citizens should consider arranging appropriate work visas for those who will start working in the UK after the end of the transition period.
How this will affect 3rd-country nationals
It is anticipated that the rules affecting 3rd-country nationals will remain the same as before Brexit. Depending on nationality, visitors will be required to hold a valid UK tourist visa or visa-waiver, such as an EVW as specified at the present time. However, it is not expected that Brexit will change the visa policy for non-EU citizens visiting Britain.
The end of the Brexit transition period is fast-approaching and it is more important than ever to prepare for these changes appropriately. With the news from the UK Government that Freedom of Movement will most likely end after 2020, it is recommended to ensure your passport is up-to-date with more than 6 months’ validity before visiting the EU or UK and to consult the UK Government website regularly for any further announcements.