Immigration expert Jamie Kerr surveys free movement landscape following Brexit vote

Jamie Kerr

Thorntons partner and immigration expert Jamie Kerr considers the implications of Brexit in this year’s SLN Annual Review.

In the wake of last year’s vote to leave the European Union, trainee solicitors have been “busy googling” the details of immigration law as legal teams scamper to update their websites and show the public they understand the field of European free movement, heretofore “an obscure one best left to a small handful of specialist lawyers,” writes Jamie.

He adds that the trainee’s briefing note probably gets the easy bit: “the difference between EU and EEA nationals”.

As Jamie explains, “After the Brexit vote, the initial question asked by many EEA nationals living and working in the UK was whether they should be concerned about their continued residence in the UK. For employers, attention has slowly turned to whether they should be concerned about their EEA staff and what, if anything, should be communicated to them.

“Unfortunately, reputable political voices quickly rushed to provide ‘reassurances’ to EEA nationals living in the UK that all would be well and too many in the legal profession reiterated the tiresome ‘despite the vote, there has been no legal change to your status’ mantra. These factors along with a general lack of understanding of both European free movement rules and the broader UK immigration system has led to an unfortunate complacency in relation to EEA nationals in Scotland that has only recently started to shift”.

While many believe it unthinkable that there would be a restriction on European nationals working in the UK, Jamie informs us that “there are already restrictions on some EEA nationals working in the UK (think Croatia)” and that “until very recently” there were “restrictions on other EEA nationals working in the UK (think Poland, Latvia, Hungary etc)”. Meanwhile, restrictions are still widespread for non-European nationals working in the UK.

“When we understand that restrictions on non-British nationals working in the UK is the norm as opposed to the exception, then we better understand that restrictions on Europeans working in the UK post-Brexit is not that ludicrous.”

Jamies advises that EEA nationals should apply now for documentation to confirm their UK residence status and that this may mean obtaining a EEA Registration Card or a Permanent Residence Card. Thereafter they can consider British nationality.

And while that comes with its own hurdles, “costly fees, exams about life in the UK, English language courses and oaths of allegiance to the Crown”, it nevertheless “might be a price worth paying to become fully ‘Brexit proofed’”.

View the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2017 online.

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