EU citizens don’t have long to ensure they can stay in UK

EU citizens don’t have long to ensure they can stay in UK

The UK Government have just announced that they will be issuing enforcement notices to those EU nationals who have not yet applied to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), to inform them of the need to apply, effectively giving them 28 days’ notice to apply. The Government confirmed that application extensions will be given if people can provide a reasonable excuse for the delay.

This is a further relaxation of the EUSS rules and the applicable deadlines, although the actual deadline remains 30th June. The Government have suggested that no one will lose out because their application wasn’t submitted on time provided that they have a reasonable excuse for the delay. It remains to be seen just what a “reasonable excuse” might be and how flexibly the Government will continue to apply the rules to allow as many as possible people to remain here. It is clear so far, that the Government is content to have as many people as possible remain.

Initially, following the Brexit referendum, EU citizens already in the UK were concerned about their position and that of their families. This subsided as the Government introduced the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to enable them to remain in the UK and to continue to live, work and access the benefits that they enjoyed pre-Brexit.  The process has been designed to be simple and quick to use and by June 2021, over 5.6 million EU citizens had applied for and obtained Settled or Pre-Settled status.

What settled status means

Settled status allows any EU citizen who has been here for 5+ years, to remain in the UK and in due course, should they choose, to apply for citizenship. Any EU citizen with less than 5 years’ residency in the UK prior to 31st December 2021, will be able to apply for Pre–Settled status which will likewise give them the right to remain in the UK. Once they have accumulated 5 years’ residency, they can transfer that to Settled status and get the additional protection available.

Despite the number of EU citizens who have already obtained Settled or Pre-Settled status, a significant number have not or are not aware of the opportunity or need to apply for this status.

Employers’ duties

Employers should be reminding employees of the need to apply for this if they wish to do so. That said, a note of caution: the reminder should be issued to all staff, not only those whom the employers knows or believes may be non UK nationals, to avoid any allegation of discrimination.

Changes to immigration

While the focus has been on Covid 19 and even on the Brexit deal with the EU, the long trailed “points based” immigration system, finally came into effect on 1st December. From that date, a new skills focussed immigration regime became effective.

The primary focus of the new scheme is to allow those with appropriate skills to work in the UK. Put simply, the higher the level of skills and education, as well as the higher level of income, the better your chances of getting a visa.

All employers seeking to employ overseas nationals need a licence from the United Kingdom Visa & Immigration Office (UKVI), to be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (COS) for a prospective employee.  The new regime doesn’t place a limit on the number of immigrants entitled to come to the UK under these arrangements but employers with existing licences may have to consider extending the number of Certificates available to them, especially as any future EU employees will need to have a work visa and will use one of those certificates.

Employers who only employ EU Nationals have not previously required a licence to issue Certificates of Sponsorship but since 1st January 2021 these businesses must now obtain them.  Now is the time to apply for this licence if you don’t already have one.

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A version of this article was published in The Scotsman.

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