The media has widely reported that people are preparing in anticipation of a potential “Leave” outcome to the British referendum on EU membership scheduled to take place on the 23rd of June.
The Independent reported that there have been a surging number of applications for British citizenship by EU nationals, and that a publisher of textbooks preparing candidates for citizenship tests said sales had quadrupled since the Prime Minister announced the taking place of the EU referendum. The surge in naturalisation applications is happening due to a fear that a “Leave” vote could leave some EU nationals without an automatic right to stay in Britain, meaning they may need to apply for a visa to be able to continue working and living in the UK, even though one was not necessary until now. The Guardian also found that thousands of people were as a precautionary measure, applying for a second passport alongside their current European one, thereby increasing the number of double passport holders. Even some Europeans who have been living in the UK for decades and have never felt the need to apply for British citizenship are now considering that option.
There has also been an increase in recent months of European citizens’ interest in the right to permanent residence that, again, was not necessary until the prospect of the “Leave” vote arose. Permanent residence is the right to live permanently in a Member State after five years of continuous residence. EEA nationals qualify automatically for permanent residence after five years of living in the UK, but they may request a permanent residence card as proof of their status.
Currently, most European nationals in the UK are content with retaining their original nationality as they can rely on European free movement laws to both live and work in the UK, even long-term. EU passport-holders enjoy rights that are equivalent to those of UK citizens with regards to access to benefits, using the NHS and the right to work, without needing to obtain permanent residence cards or citizenship. This though may now change in the not too distant future.
Furthermore, the Guardian has reported that a record number of British solicitors – a number greater in the first months of 2016 than in the whole of last year – have registered to practice in Ireland. If the UK were to exit the EU, British solicitors would no longer have the right to argue cases for clients before the European courts. The director general of the Law Society of Ireland said the majority of applicants had mentioned the possibility of the UK leaving the EU as a reason for wanting to practice in Ireland, particularly because Ireland has the legal jurisdiction, which is most similar to the UK. Moreover, the process for registering to practice in Ireland is highly simplified for solicitors who qualified in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
The steady increase in the number of EU citizens working in the UK over the past few years and the further acceleration since 2013, has led to a current historic high of 2.15 million Europeans, as noted by the Financial Times, which makes the outcome of this referendum even more critical. The uncertainties regarding the future after a potential “Leave” vote is probably what sparks the greatest fears in EU citizens and causing the increases in naturalisation applications. If the UK does vote to exit the EU in the upcoming referendum, the future is unclear and will entirely depend on the negotiations that will take place after the vote between the British government and the EU, which are going to last for at least a minimum of two years.