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Brexit results are in, what next for Immigration Law?

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The result of the EU Referendum is now confirmed and the nation has voted 51.9% in favour of leaving the European Union. It is still too early to tell exactly what will happen next, but we now have a better indication of the direction we will be moving in. Once the legal process of leaving the EU is actually triggered, there will be at least two years worth of negotiating to go until we fully understand the position. We must however pay close attention to the negotiations that come, particularly when it comes to Immigration law and EU Free Movement.

Free Movement is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union, allowing citizens to move freely between Member States.  Free Movement entitles EU citizens, and their immediate family, to enter and remain in the UK for up to 3 months. If those citizens begin working, or become self-employed or self-sufficient, then they are entitled to stay in the UK beyond the initial 3 months. After 5 years in the UK, these citizens and their family members obtain a right of Permanent Residence.

So what could happen now?

For EU Citizens

Without the pillar of Free Movement in place, the UK would be able to renegotiate how it controls EU immigration. This may mean tightening the existing Free Movement laws that we have already incorporated into UK immigration law, or it could mean taking things further and removing the distinction between EU & Non-EU migrants altogether: extending current UK Immigration laws and visa rules to cover EU citizens.

EU citizens with 5 years lawful residence are probably going to be in the best position. They should be able to apply for a Permanent Residence Card to evidence their right to remain in the UK, which will help protect their position in the UK going forwards. After one year of possessing this card, they can then go on to consider British Citizenship.

For those with less than 5 years, the position is a bit more uncertain. If no sufficient transitional provisions are put in place once the negotiations are concluded, these citizens may have to consider their options under the current Immigration visa rules; this may involve switching to a Settlement, Work or Study visa.

We would suggest that EU citizens consider taking advice on their current Immigration status and options moving forward, particularly if they are in the UK with dependent family members.

For Non-EU Citizens

Although leaving the EU does not have an immediate impact on Non-EU citizens, it seems that there is an appetite for tightening Immigration controls. Now may therefore be a good time for non-EU citizens to also seek advise on their current Immigration strategy with a view to assessing their eligibility for Indefinite Leave to Remain and/or British Citizenship.

For International Employers

EU citizens can currently work in the UK as a result of their Free Movement rights whilst non-EU citizens are subject to the Points-Based System of the Immigration rules. The responsibility for checking whether an employee has a Right to Work falls upon the employer.

If Free Movement laws are changed it is possible that there will be no more automatic right to work for EU workers in the UK. Employers need to be acutely aware of any changes that are proposed for Free Movement laws in the near future.

If EU workers are to be treated the same as non-EU workers then more UK employers may need to consider becoming a registered ‘Sponsor’ and obtaining an appropriate Sponsors License to enable them to lawfully employ international workers. Failure to abide by the rules on Sponsorship and Right to Work checks can result in financial penalties for employers.


If you are in any doubt as to what to do next as a result of the EU Referendum results, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Immigration team. We can advise on any of the following matters raised in this article:

  • Permanent Residence
  • British Citizenship
  • Visa options
  • Indefinite Leave to Remain
  • Sponsorship
  • Right to Work