Written exclusively for Expat Network by Phil Nash on behalf of the Immigration Advice Service – an organization of leading UK immigration solicitors.
Britain’s departure from the EU has been delayed yet again, this time until October 31st – and it might well be pushed back even further. Should the UK leave with a deal, the current rights of British nationals within the EU are to be maintained in their current state throughout the Implementation Period. Should a withdrawal deal fail to materialize, however, the Brexit cliff-edge poses a real threat to the futures of UK citizens abroad.
It’s estimated there are currently 800,000 UK citizens living in EU countries. Among these expat communities there is naturally a high degree of uncertainty around Brexit and the impact it could have on their lives. Only 11 out of 27 EU countries have confirmed they will grant UK citizens permanent residency in the event of a No Deal outcome. Many other EU countries have announced they will only accept temporary residence requests, potentially plunging thousands of UK nationals into limbo. Given this situation, some analysts have predicted an upcoming ‘Brexodus” of returnees from mainland Europe.
Although it remains questionable whether a deal will be struck, the UK government has made recent moves to reassure citizens in the EU of their rights should they wish to remain abroad or come home. For one, the UK is seeking reciprocal agreement with EU member states on social security and healthcare rights. Britain hopes to maintain the existing rights offered to its citizens in a transition period that is currently intended to run from the UK’s departure until 31st December 2020.
Further reassurances have been made regarding pensions. The government plans for UK nationals living in the EU to continue to receive up-rated UK State Pensions for the 2019/20 financial year. In addition, the government has signaled it will continue to issue State Pensions after this point, subject to reciprocal arrangements with EU member states.
Benefits could also be affected. UK nationals in EU countries will continue to receive their benefits – including child benefit and disability benefit – in situations where the recipient is exporting these benefits from the UK to their EU country of residence. UK nationals in the EU who are already receiving benefits, like the State Pension, will continue to receive them should they decide to return home.
Indeed, the UK government appears to be laying the groundwork for a “Brexodus” of returning citizens. It has indicated that UK nationals returning to live in the UK who meet ordinary resident requirements will still be eligible for NHS healthcare. Those UK nationals who return to the UK would have the same access to the NHS as residents already living here. That being said, it is vital that all UK nationals considering a return to the UK, and planning applications for new benefits and entitlements, check their eligibility status carefully.
Those looking to move home will no doubt take comfort from these measures. It has been announced that UK nationals, their children and other close family members, will be able to return to the UK under the existing rules until 29th March 2022. Close family members like children and spouses will be able to apply to and qualify for the EU Settlement Scheme. After the 2022 cut-off point, however, family members will need to apply via the UK’s new immigration system and partners will need to apply for a Spouse Visa.
The British government is also offering help to students. Any UK national who was previously resident in England but now lives in the EU and who wants to come back to the UK to study will still be supported by Student Finance England for a period of seven years. This system will come into place on departure day in the case of a No Deal scenario.
Visa-free travel for UK nationals to the EU has also just been approved by the European Parliament – which is good news for the tourist industry. UK citizens in Ireland need not worry either. Their movement will be unaffected due to arrangements under the Common Travel Area.
Although these are positive steps by the government, with Theresa May’s deal no nearer to being passed, much remains up in the air. Should this uncertainty continue, it is likely that many UK citizens will seek to return home to any benefits they are eligible to receive. Given that many of the government’s current plans for guaranteeing rights hinge on reciprocity, it is understandable that some UK nationals will opt for the security of coming home, given that both physically and logistically it is simpler for the government to deliver support to UK-based families.
UK nationals considering a return to the UK should confirm their eligibility for benefits and entitlements on the relevant government websites. The delay of Brexit until late October has only postponed the hardest decision of all – but it has also allowed British expats more time to weigh up their options. Either they continue to wait, in hope that a deal is reached that guarantees their rights abroad, or they join the ever-growing “Brexodus” and head home.