United Kingdom – Brexit and the consequences for UK immigration

By popular vote on 23 June, the United Kingdom took the unprecedented decision to leave the European Union. Here, Pro-link GLOBAL examines the impact on global mobility and immigration.

UK and EU
While experts agree that the impacts of this vote will be far reaching when it comes to the UK, EU, and world economy, international laws and treaties, socio-political movements, and a multitude of immigration regulations and programs, there remains more questions than answers surrounding “Brexit” and its future implications.

Brexit – UK votes to leave European Union

Winning 52 per cent of the popular vote, the “Leave” campaign provided a bold statement of UK dissatisfaction with the EU and many of its open policies on the economy and immigration. However, the next steps for the UK and the EU alike are unclear at best and influenced by a multitude of factors.If we were to remove all of the current political and social factors surrounding this recent vote, in purely legal terms, an EU member state wishing to depart the Union must invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which then triggers a two-year transitional period during which the terms of the exit and future interactions with the EU are negotiated. If no agreement is reached within those two years, the departing country exits the EU without any legal treaties or agreements to the Union and, reciprocally, the remaining EU member states have no legal obligations to the departing country. If an agreement is met, many political, economic, and immigration measures could remain the same: the economy could remain inextricably linked into the EU Single Market and certain tenants of the EU Freedom of Movement rules may stay in place. Alternatively, an agreement may also see the UK make a clean break from the EU which would result in a significant overhaul of their EU immigration program.That being said, Brexit does not exist in a legal vacuum, which brings us to one of the most important current questions: what if the British Parliament and Prime Minister never invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty? Popular referendums are not legally binding and do not require that the British authorities act on the Brexit vote. In fact, outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron has publically stated that he will not bring forth Article 50 while he is in office instead deferring to his (currently unknown) successor taking over in Fall of this year. Coupled with data pointing toward both a significant generational divide in the votes (older UK citizens tended to vote “Leave,” whereas younger UK citizens trended towards “Remain” votes), and a significant regional divide (voters in London and Scotland overwhelmingly supported remaining in the EU), make the UK Parliament’s upcoming decisions even more difficult.

What's changed?

A significant platform of the “Leave” campaign was based on frustration with current immigration levels from EU nationals into the UK. As such, it can be anticipated that immigration reform will be a major factor in any future political decisions stemming from the Brexit vote. However, beyond the current uncertainty of what might happen next, the immediate impact for sponsoring companies and EU nationals currently living and working in the UK is fairly minimal.The following sections focus on the next steps and possible effects of Brexit on UK/EU corporate immigration.

Transitional Measures and the Lisbon Treaty

If Article 50 is invoked by the future Prime Minister, the transitional departure period for the UK will be at least two (2) years in length. During the transition period, the UK must continue to abide by EU regulations (including EU Freedom of Movement rules), but will not have any decision making power within the EU. Thus, although we may see various unrelated immigration changes from the UK in the upcoming months, the lengthy transition period should help take off some of the pressure to implement significant immigration reforms in the immediate future.

Possible Impacts on Immigration

The possible effects on immigration will depend strongly on what exit model the UK chooses to adopt. At this beginning stage of a possible exit, it cannot be anticipated what changes may be coming to UK immigration; however, potential options post-transition period may include:
  • Generally, there may be significant changes to the immigration routes for EU nationals into the UK. These changes will most likely include a removal of the EU Freedom of Movement provisions and benefits. While EU nationals may still enjoy a more streamlined immigration process than their non-EU counterparts, global mobility teams should still anticipate longer processing times; additional document requirements; new and increased immigration fees for EU nationals; and new visa, work, and residence permit procedures.
  • Should the immigration routes for EU nationals match those of non-EU nationals (i.e. the UK invokes its national immigration laws on all EU citizens), there may be changes to the eligibility and document requirements for corporate sponsorship under the Sponsorship Management System.
  • Business travel between the UK and EU may be negatively impacted by Brexit as well. It is quite possible that EU nationals will be required to obtain a Visitor Visa for business travel into the UK and, in response, UK nationals may be required to obtain business visas to certain EU countries as well. Alternatively, the UK and the EU as a whole, or the UK and individual member states, may reach agreement to continue visa-free business travel between their countries.
There does remain a possibility that the UK may retain certain strategic international agreements that are already in place which may reduce the immigration repercussions. For instance, should the UK remain a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) or enter into a new agreement with EU itself, many of the EU Freedom of Movement provisions will likely stay in place as seen in Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Alternatively, the UK could enter into separate bilateral agreements with strategic individual member states that would provide open or very streamlined immigration between those countries (e.g. Germany or France) while introducing new, more stringent immigration measures for other EU countries (e.g. Croatia or Bulgaria).Finally, for the nearly 3 million EU nationals currently residing in the UK, it is strongly anticipated that their stay in the UK will not be impacted and they will be able to remain in the UK under grandfathered immigration regulations. It remains to be seen when the UK authorities will place a cut-off date for any type of grandfather provisions. EU nationals who have resided in the UK for more than five (5) years are strongly encouraged to begin the EU Permanent Residency application process if they have not done so already.

Potential Unexpected Consequences for UK Nationals Immigrating throughout the EU

With much of the media and industry focus on possible changes to UK inbound immigration, it is important to remember that Brexit may have significant consequences on UK nationals working and residing throughout the European Union. Should the UK impose stricter immigration requirements on all EU nationals or EU nationals of certain countries, those affected countries may enforce reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals working and residing in their country.As with current EU nationals living in the UK, it is anticipated that UK nationals currently living throughout the EU will be granted grandfathered immigration arrangements similar to what is now in place.

Next Steps for Companies Sponsoring EU Nationals in the UK

As the uncertainty grows, especially for those EU nationals currently living and residing in the UK, it is important for Global Mobility teams to reassure expatriates in the UK and those UK nationals living throughout the EU that there are no immediate or even medium-term effects on their immigration status.Strategically, Global Mobility teams should begin anticipating and planning for some of the possible changes in the UK. Some initial steps should include:
  • Remaining calm. As Chancellor George Osbourne stated after the referendum results came through, “The UK will always be open to business.”
  • Collect data. Begin reviewing the details of your current EU population in the UK and any UK employees who may be on assignment in the EU. Although there are no immediate impacts to their immigration status and all sides have indicated that these populations will not be negatively impacted by any post-transition measures, it will be important for Global Mobility teams to ensure that they know who is in-country and what their immigration status is.
  • Anticipate costs. It is likely that post-transition immigration between the UK and EU will be significantly more expensive. Sponsoring companies should keep this in mind when looking at future immigration program costs.
  • Plan for delays. Even though immigration between the UK and EU will run normally for the foreseeable future, Global Mobility teams should plan for possible processing slowdowns as future developments come forth.
Pro-Link GLOBAL is dedicated to ensuring that you and your expatriate populations feel secure, educated, and knowledgeable during this time of uncertainty. We are committed to monitoring this situation closely in the upcoming days, weeks, and months, and will provide any updates as they are made known.Caveat Lector | Warning to ReaderThis is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. We would like to remind you that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please reach out to your immigration specialist or your client relations manager at Pro-Link GLOBAL should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by your Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management, Council, and UK Office teams.Information contained in this Global Brief is prepared using information obtained from various media outlets, government publications and our KGNM immigration professionals. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content posted or published by Pro-Link GLOBAL that extends beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Furthermore, responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing permission rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Interested parties are welcome to contact the Knowledge Management Department (km@pro-linkglobal.com) with any additional requests for information or to request reproduction of this material.Visit: www.pro-linkglobal.com | Email: 

Read analysis of what the vote to leave the EU may mean for the global mobility industry in Brexit is a reality – a new era for global mobility? by Relocate Global's managing editor, Fiona Murchie.


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