As promised in their election manifesto, the Conservatives are forging ahead with their pledge to hold a referendum (a nationwide vote) on ‘whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union’.
The referendum is likely to take place by the end of 2017 and may prove to be the beginning of the end of the European Union as we now know it.
The EU’s foundations lay on earlier agreements between European countries such as the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) and the EEC (European Economic Community). The Union comprises of 28 States, and its main aim is to ensure free movement of people, goods, services and capital as well as consistency in legislation and policies, particularly of an economic nature.
In 1993 the Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of European citizenship and gave the European Union its current name.
The recent ‘migration crisis’ has led various countries to question the validity of accords that were born in the spirit of the EU, such as the Schengen Agreement, which created a common travel area in some EU countries where passport controls have been abolished.
The UK has always valued its independence from the EU as it has never been part of the Schengen Agreement or the Eurozone, but now the recent electoral victory of the Conservatives is making the possibility of the UK actually leaving the EU very real.
What would this mean for the 2.3 million of EU nationals who, according to the Office of National Statistics, currently reside in the UK?
It is difficult to predict what the future holds. There are too many variables to consider and it is unlikely that things will change overnight. However, it is possible that a form of residence permit will be required for EU nationals to enter or extend their leave in the UK, and the position of non-EU family members could be even more problematic.
Unmarried partners and other extended family members (such as uncles and aunts, siblings and other dependant relatives) would probably experience more difficulties.
In this uncertain climate, EU nationals may wish to apply for a registration certificate for themselves and a residence card for any non-EEA family members, to confirm they have the right to remain in the UK.
EU nationals who have spent at least 5 years in the UK can apply for a permanent residence card, which is a pre-requisite to apply for naturalization.
If a EU citizen has already been in the UK for over 5 years, and assuming that their country of origin allows dual citizenship, it would be advisable to apply for naturalization as a British citizen, as this is the only way to ensure that the forthcoming referendum will have no impact on them.
Likewise, EU children may be eligible to apply for registration as a British citizen, and in some instances this may be possible even if their EU parents are not yet eligible to become British Citizens themselves.
Here at Gherson we have noticed a significant increase in demand for our services from EU nationals who are worried that after the referendum they might be required to leave the UK, losing their job, home and the life they have build here. Many have never thought to apply for proof that they have the right to be in the UK instead relying on the fact that as EU citizens they could freely come and go. However EU law is complex, and there are various requirements that a EU citizen has to meet to ensure they are ‘qualified persons’ i.e. they have the legal right to enter and remain in the UK. It is advisable to obtain specialist advice to ensure that these requirements are met, and at Gherson our team of specialists is happy to assist.