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Where will non-UK EU workers stand post-Brexit?

A look at the government’s proposals reveals the potential impact of Brexit on EU citizens in UK veterinary practice

by Jennifer Banfield
20 December 2017, at 11:28am

A BBC report at the end of July summed up what many in the profession know – that the UK veterinary profession is very reliant on overseas workers, especially from the EU. According to the report, the Lords EU Environment Committee said it was concerned that 90% of slaughterhouse vets were EU nationals and it was vital they stayed in the UK after Brexit.

No one knows what is going to happen post-Brexit or what the exact employment or migratory landscape will look like. However, practices do need to give the situation some thought. Government, at the time of writing, has taken two steps towards finding a solution – a paper offering proposals on what it sees as a workable outcome and an assessment of the value of migratory workers.

The paper

The government paper, published at the end of June, discussed proposals to allow EU citizens living in the UK to stay beyond Brexit in the expectation that UK nationals living across the EU will be treated in the same way.

Naturally, for any policy on immigration to work, there must be a cut-off date – which the government is terming ‘the specified date’. This will be somewhere between now and the date of the UK’s actual withdrawal from the EU. Assurance has been given to Irish citizens that the Common Travel Area arrangements between the UK and Ireland will be protected.

It’s being proposed that EU residents in the UK will continue to enjoy the rights they presently have under EU Treaties, but after the UK has left the EU, there will be new rights created under UK law. In essence, EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status.

Under the proposed UK law, qualifying EU citizens (those EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for a period of a continuous five years) will be able to apply for ‘settled status’ (indefinite leave to remain under the Immigration Act 1971) if they are still resident in the UK. If an EU citizen has already been resident in the UK for a continuous period of five years before the specified date, they will be eligible to apply for permission for settled status.

If an EU citizen already has a document certifying permanent residence in the UK, this will not be automatically replaced with a grant of settled status.

Where an EU citizen wants to apply to become a British citizen, they must show they have permanent residence in the UK with a certifying document. But what application can an EU citizen make to remain in the UK if they arrived in the UK before the specified date, but have not yet been resident for five years?

Here, the government has stated they will be allowed to stay in the UK until they reach the five-year point, but then they will need to apply to the Home Office for a temporary residence document to remain in the UK once it has left the EU. It’s proposed that EU citizens will have a grace period between the moment free movement ends and the time they can obtain their residence document – which looks likely to be up to two years.

Free movement rights

Anyone who arrives prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, but between the specified date and the date the UK leaves the EU, will continue to exercise free movement rights up until the UK leaves the EU. From then on, the grace period will apply. If the specified date is set at the date of the UK’s withdrawal, new post-exit arrangements would automatically apply to EU citizens and their family members who arrive after that date.

Clearly, EU citizens who want to live in the UK after the UK has left the EU, and after the grace period has expired, will have to comply with future immigration controls in place at the time.

Family members of EU citizens who arrived in the UK before the specified date, who come to the UK after it has left the EU – for example a future spouse – will be subject to the same rules that apply to non-EU nationals joining British citizens. At present, these rules state the British citizen must earn at least £18,600 to bring their spouse to the UK or meet the other ways in which the financial requirement can be met - for instance through savings.

Employers will have to ensure they make checks on the right of EU individuals to work here

Those employing EU citizens will see no change to the rights and status of their employees. It is only after the UK leaves the EU that EU citizens will need to apply for documentation to prove they have permission to work legally in the UK. Similarly, employers will have to ensure they make checks on the right of EU individuals to work here. The government says it will engage closely with businesses and others on how they will be affected.

Assessment

At the end of July, the government commissioned an assessment of the costs and benefits to the UK of EU migrants. Surprisingly, the outcome is expected to be published in September 2018, some six months before a scheduled Brexit. At the same time as announcing the assessment, the government said it’s legislative plans for controlling migration would be revealed in a white paper later in 2017 with an immigration bill to follow in 2018.

There do appear to be mixed messages. Speaking in Sydney at the time, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was unaware of the commissioned report, adding that immigration had been “fantastic for the energy and dynamism of the economy”, but “that doesn’t mean that you can’t control it”. But Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis, at the time the assessment was announced, said it was a “simple matter of fact” that EU free movement rules would end and a new system would be in place by spring 2019.

These are the UK government’s proposals which will form the basis of its position when negotiating the issue with the EU. There is no certainty at this stage that these proposals will be accepted.

The view of the profession

A spokesman for the RCVS, alongside the BVA, says the two organisations are lobbying the government. They’re stressing the contribution made by non-UK EU veterinary surgeons in fields such as clinical practice, academia and, in particular, public health and meat hygiene where upwards of 80% of the workforce are from elsewhere in the EU.

“Our first Brexit principle,” said the spokesman, “is that ‘vital veterinary work continues to get done’. This is why we would like to see firm guarantees given to EU citizens registered here as veterinary surgeons that they will continue to be able to live and work in the UK indefinitely after Brexit, otherwise we could be facing potential workforce shortages.”

He added that after Brexit, the RCVS would also like to see veterinary surgeons from the EU prioritised for UK work visas or the equivalent.

Brian Faulker, SPVS president, says his body recognises the veterinary profession’s huge dependence on non-UK workers: “SPVS supports the work done by BVA and other veterinary organisations in trying to draw to government’s attention how dependent the UK veterinary profession is on European colleagues.”

He’s concerned that any barriers to that movement are likely to reverberate “all the way down the consultation room as well as on farms, and horse yards, affecting animal welfare, client service as well as veterinary well-being”.