British Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed details of her proposals for the rights of EU citizens hoping to remain in Britain after the country’s departure from the European Union.
A 15-page document published Monday showed the UK’s offer regarding the 3.2 million EU nationals in Britain, who have faced enormous uncertainty since the UK voted to leave the EU last year.
The other half of the deal will have to come from the EU negotiators on how they will treat the 900,000 or so British citizens who are long-term residents of other EU nations.
The British government has always said that its first priority would be to reassure EU nationals of their future while at the same time reaching a reciprocal deal for British citizens living in EU states.
What’s in the offer:
Families will not be split up: The British government insists that no families will be split up when Britain leaves the EU. But the government does say that all EU citizens and their families must obtain an immigration status irrespective of when they arrived in the country. That means they will need to seek permission to remain in the country through the Home Office, which is responsible for granting a residency document.
Introduction of a new system - ‘Settled status:’ For EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years on a continuous basis, there is the opportunity to gain “settled status,” which would allow them to enjoy the same rights as British citizens.
Who’s eligible? EU nationals who have lived in the UK for under five years will be allowed to remain until they have reached the five-year point. Those who arrive in the UK after the cut-off date but before the country leaves the EU will be given a “grace period,” expected to be two years. That “grace period” will allow EU nationals to clarify their immigration status and ensure they are able to seek settled status.
What benefits? The new status will enable EU citizens to remain in the country and enjoy the same rights as British citizens in terms of access to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions.
Is ‘settled status’ the same as citizenship? No, although people can apply for citizenship after six years’ residency. Settlement status can also be lost if the person is out of the country for two years or more.
What’s the deal with spouses? Since new rules were introduced in 2012, the UK partner – a British citizen or recognized refugee – must have a minimum annual income of at least £18,600 (around $23,000) for their spouse to live with them, if the spouse comes from outside the European Economic Area. This is now set to be applied to EU citizens.
What’s the deal with Ireland? The government has said one of its main priorities is to strike a deal with the EU over the state of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republica of Ireland. The UK government has also pledged to protect the Common Travel Area with Ireland.
What we don’t know
No deal: This entire pledge on EU citizens in the UK could be superfluous if no deal on Brexit is forthcoming. A no-deal scenario would leave both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU states in limbo and add yet more uncertainty and anxiety.
Cut off date: The cut-off date for eligibility has yet to be decided which leaves yet more questions over when the five-year period of eligibility will be measured from. It is likely to be any time between March 29, 2017 and March 29, 2019.
Can ‘settled status’ residents vote? While the paper sets out that those with settled status will enjoy the same rights as British citizens, it does not clarify whether they will be allowed to vote in elections.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier called for more “clarity and guarantees” on the UK proposals while Mayor of London Sadiq Khan labeled the plan as “half-baked.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said that a “number of limitations remain worrisome and will have to be carefully assessed.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized the proposals as “too little, too late,” while accusing the government of using people as “bargaining chips” over Brexit negotiations.