Brexit. If not for coronavirus, it’d surely be the subject that defined the news agenda in 2020 – both in the UK and across Europe. The truth is that it has been a constant in our lives for quite a while now. But we are now finally coming to the end game in this so-called ‘divorce’.
The UK and the European Union’s (EU) relationship will change at the start of 2021. And it’ll mean new rules for trade, travel and the legal rights of Europeans living (or hoping to live) in the UK.
Ever since former Prime Minister David Cameron announced in early 2016 that there would be a public vote on the UK’s membership of the EU, there has much to discuss.
After all, Brexit is a case of unravelling decades’ worth of treaties and agreements. And it has posed many tough questions for immigration lawyers, trade analysts and diplomatic experts.
Even now, it feels as if some of the answers are still unknown. And that leaves the future of many no more certain.
The UK’s current relationship with Europe
Of course, the UK is technically no longer a member of the EU – and hasn’t been since the end of January 2020. Indeed, we have been in a transition period for the last 11 months.
The point of this period was to define and agree on the new relationship – and everything that falls under it. Much of the recent headlines refer to the ongoing stalemate to secure a trade deal by the end of this period. But other aspects are being dealt with in a less public manner.
There are now 57 trade deals in place for the start of the new year for the UK. While these are only ‘roll-over’ deals that carry forward terms agreed by the EU and respective nations, they provide foundations for bespoke agreements to be secured.
Meanwhile, the UK has also defined its new immigration system; seen as one of the most integral factors behind Brexit. There have also been efforts made to safeguard the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK.
What does Brexit mean for European citizens?
EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland citizens can apply to remain in the UK past 30 June 2021 through the EU Settlement Scheme – launched in 2019.
But there are concerns, however, that thousands of such citizens may miss the deadline. This is either because they’re not aware of the scheme or don’t have the skills to apply using a digital-only system.
The fundamental change for the UK and European citizens moving to and from the continent is removing freedom of movement. This ability to live, work and settle in any EU nation without any specific visa requirements no longer applies to the UK. This isn’t just creating uncertainties for individuals and families, however. Employers too must now come to terms with new rules.
EU employment laws and rights will continue to apply in the UK. But a threat that some of the UK’s employers now face is the prospect of a widening skills gap and labour availability.
For employers, the hiring of EU nationals will need to perform more checks on eligibility or use an existing sponsor route that already applied to non-EU nationals.
The new framework for immigration to the UK
It’s worth pointing out that Irish citizens’ rights will remain unchanged after Brexit due to the Common Travel Area. For all other European citizens, however, must now go through the new points-based immigration system.
According to the UK government, the aim of this is only to permit skilled workers to settle and earn a living in the UK.
It includes a pathway for those skilled workers who already have a job offer from an approved sponsor employer. But that job will need to demand a level of education equivalent to A-Level.
There is also a requirement to speak English and earn at least £25,600 or the going rate for a specific job – whichever is higher.
However, for those earning between £20,480 and £25,600, applicants can “trade” points when they apply. This means EU nationals with an offer of work in a shortage profession or holding a PhD relevant to their job can still get a visa.
Meanwhile, a global talent scheme will be available to highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without needing a visa.
However, one thing that is certain about all these changes is that individuals and their families have much to consider. With moves towards digital-only processes and a deluge of information,
it is easy to become confused. Like other disciplines, employment and immigration lawyers can now draw on their own preparations to advise and inform anyone unsure.
But we should probably only look at this as the closing of a chapter between the UK and the EU.
The next one is about to begin.