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Factsheet on EU citizens' rights agreement

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The UK and European Union have reached an agreement on citizens' rights after the UK leaves the EU. This factsheet sets out what the deal means for EU citizens living in the UK and what the next steps are.

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EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK have made a huge contribution to our country and safeguarding their rights and giving reciprocal protections for UK nationals living in the EU has been our first priority in the negotiations.

In December, the UK and EU reached an agreement that does this. This fair deal means that EU citizens and UK nationals will have their rights preserved so that they can carry on living their lives broadly as they do now.

The UK and EU agreed on Friday 23 March that this will also extend to EU citizens who arrive in the UK and UK nationals who move to the EU during the implementation period.

What does this deal mean for EU citizens living in the UK?

Many of the areas outlined in December's document had already been agreed but below we set out the key points.

  • Who it covers: The Withdrawal Agreement will protect those EU citizens who have been exercising free movement rights in the UK at the time of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on the 29 March 2019. Family members living lawfully in the UK with their EU citizen relative at this point are also protected. The agreement in March 2018 extends this to EU citizens and their family members who move to the UK before 1 January 2021.
  • How it works: Those who have already had five years of continuous residence in the UK will be eligible to apply for settled status. Others will be able to remain in the UK to build-up five years’ continuous residence.
  • Loss of settled status: People will be able to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing their right to settled status. This is more than double the level of absence allowed under current EU law.
  • Healthcare, benefits and pensions: This agreement not only provides certainty about residence, but also healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system – and UK nationals into the system of an EU27 country – can benefit from what they’ve already put in and continue to benefit from existing coordination rules for future contributions. Those covered by the agreement will be able to continue to receive healthcare as they do now.
  • Reunion with existing family: The deal will allow the close family members of those protected by the agreement, who live in a different country on 31 December 2020, to reunite as a family at any time in the future. They will then be eligible to qualify for settled status. Close family members are spouses, civil partners and durable partners, dependent children and grandchildren and dependent parents and dependent grandparents.
  • Future family members: Children born or adopted after the implementation period to those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement will be protected. Future spouses and partners of EU citizens who want to come to the UK after the 31 December 2020 will need to meet the UK’s immigration rules. This will mean equal treatment for EU and British citizens who marry foreign nationals.
  • Frontier workers: Those who live in the UK and work in the EU will be able to carry on as before. This also applies to UK nationals.
  • Benefits export: EU citizens legally resident in the UK on 31 December 2020 who are covered by the deal will be able to continue to export benefits under the current EU rules if they are working in the UK or have worked and paid into the system. The agreement ensures that UK nationals living in Europe can also do this.
  • Cost of a settled status application: A settled status application will cost no more than the fee paid by British people to get a passport. Those who already have permanent residence documentation will not be charged, but will still need to apply through a simpler process than the full scheme.
  • Criminality: Any removals on the grounds of criminality or security will be in line with EU law for behaviour prior to the end of the implementation period and UK law for behaviour after the UK’s end of the implementation period.
  • Professional qualifications: The professional qualifications already obtained by those covered by the agreement will continue to be recognised after the implementation period ends.
  • Protection of rights: EU citizens’ rights will be upheld by incorporating the agreement into UK law and EU citizens will be able to take their case to UK courts. UK courts will follow EU caselaw that pre-dates 31 December 2020 and have due regard to relevant subsequent caselaw.
  • Role of the European Court of Justice: After the 31 December 2020, UK courts can ask the European Court of Justice for a legal view on the law in relation to citizens’ rights if there are questions not previously brought before the courts. UK courts will use the resulting legal view to make their final judgment. For cases which concern a refusal to grant UK immigration status, the ability of the UK courts to refer questions of interpretation to the CJEU will be limited to 8 years from 29 March 2019.

How will the settled status scheme work?

  • We are developing the settled status scheme from scratch. The new system will be streamlined, user-friendly and draw on existing Government data to minimise the burden on applicants to provide evidence.
  • Those applying to stay in the UK after we leave the EU will not have their applications refused on minor technicalities and caseworkers considering applications will exercise discretion in favour of the applicant where appropriate.
  • As a result, we expect the vast majority of cases to be granted, with refusals most likely to be because of serious criminality or if the person is not an EU citizen (or family member) or not resident in the UK.
  • We have already set out some details of how the scheme will work and more information will be provided in the coming months.
  • EU citizens cannot apply right now but can sign up for updates on our mailing list.
  • We will be launching the scheme for applications in late 2018 on a voluntary basis.
  • EU citizens will have plenty of time to apply after we leave the EU to make an application for settled status. They will have until 30 June 2021 to do so.

What’s next?

  • Some issues on EU citizens’ rights will be carried over into the next phase because the EU Commission deemed them to be about the future relationship:
    • The rights of those posted by their EU27 employer to work temporarily in the UK.
    • The recognition of a wider range of professional qualifications and in a wider range of circumstances. For example, students in the process of obtaining a qualification or those relying on their qualifications to provide cross-border services.

The EU Commission said it did not have the right to agree voting rights on behalf of EU Member States. It is our view that voting in local elections helps EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU contribute to and feel a part of the local communities in which they live. That is why we will explore bilateral arrangements on voting rights with Member States that do not already provide for this in their national law.

Journalists interested in what the citizens’ rights agreement means for UK nationals living in EU Member States should contact the Department for Exiting the European Union.

This factsheet was updated on 23 March 2018 after the European Council agreed the details of the implementation period negotiated between the UK and European Commission.

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