As part of a project I’m beginning on the meaning and practice of EU citizenship in the UK after the UK-EU referendum, I am conducting research on the experiences of migrants, as well as their rights in the UK. Last night, I attended an event hosted by a legal firm and London chambers on EU migrants’ rights after ‘Brexit’.
As the opening speaker remarked, the event was designed to “calm people down and prevent panic” concerning the rights of non-UK EU/EEA citizens after the referendum.
From the perspective of lawyers and unions (who themselves seem far more concerned with the rights of their non-UK EU members than the Labour Party), the message is clear: to secure your rights to reside in the UK, in whatever relationship the UK has with the EU, apply for UK permanent residency.
But, is it that simple to apply and become a permanent resident in the UK?
Said lawyers advised too you seek the advice of lawyers before applying for permanent residency. Perhaps lawyers might always advise you seek their advice (that is, after all their business model). However, for a status that costs just £65 (far cheaper than the £1,236+ for UK citizenship) this seems to mask a veil of complexity regarding who can apply to be a permanent resident.
The second reason they advise seeking legal advice is that, if your application is refused for permanent residency, the fees (from 10 October 2016) to appeal the decision will increase dramatically:
To apply to be a permanent resident, you have to prove that you have been exercising treaty rights for 5 years (while not residing outside of the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 month period). Exercising treaty rights means fitting within one of these five categories:
- Self-sufficient person
- Self-employed person
First, the job seeker status is not indefinite, and can only be used for up to 3 months. In other words, you can’t apply to be a permanent resident of the UK if you’re an EEA national that has been seeking a job for the past 5 years.
Second, to fall under apply under the categories of student or self-sufficient person you must hold comprehensive, private, medical insurance (under EU law). This is the brutal irony: as a state with free-at-point-of-use healthcare, the NHS does not count as a form of medical insurance, as ruled by the UK Court of Appeal.
I am yet to meet a student from elsewhere in the EU/EEA studying in the UK who has medical insurance. You do not need medical insurance to function in the UK. But, so as to prove you are not a ‘burden’ on ‘us’, EU/EEA students must seek medical insurance to meet the requirements of residency in the UK.
Third, then, the easiest category to apply for permanent residency is as a worker. But do you have payslips and P60s for the last 5 years? Well, the advice was to keep everything. Because, if your employer goes out of business, the onus is on you to prove that you worked there, if you want to apply to be a permanent resident.
Yet, with the casualisation of work, I worry about the ability of many EU migrants to meet these standards. Take higher education, where you can often be employed on 6-9 month contracts and may be spend the summer elsewhere to save money. Universities are disincentivised to provide longer term contracts, to save money, and to prevent you from acquiring the right to a permanent contract. Ultimately, this casualisation is further undermining your rights to gain permanent residency in the UK.
Finally, you can no longer apply to be a UK citizen unless you are already a permanent resident. The Home Office used to reimburse your fee (£65) to apply to be a permanent resident, when you applied to be a UK citizen. However, this is no longer the case: instead, your application for citizenship is refused, you lose the £1,236 and, most likely, cannot apply to be a citizen for another 10 years.
So, while we live in the no-mans-land of “Brexit means Brexit”, permanent residency seems to be the answer, so long as you are a worker can prove that to be the case for the last 5 years.