On June 23, 2016, following a historic referendum, the United Kingdom decided to exit the European Union – an association or partnership of European nations that allow the EU to function as a single market. UK Prime Minister triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on March 29, 2017, which gave the state two years to renegotiate the terms of this Brexit by March 31, 2019. One of many important details was how will the UK would deal with the European Union’s terms that allowed EU citizens to freely travel across, reside, and work in the UK, and vice versa.
By December 2018, 3.6 million EU citizens were living in the UK, and since March 2017, they have been living under a shadow of constant anxiety. Adding to the confusion were news reports some of which claimed that EU citizens will need to register for an identification card and provide biometric information. Quelling speculations, then UK PM Theresa May had reassured EU citizens living in the country that the offer she had made during the European Council Summit in June 2017, was a very fair one and would protect citizens’ rights. Current plans include offering ‘settled status,’ to EU citizens living in the UK for over five years. This means that they will be eligible for all the rights, healthcare, and education available to UK citizens. Those who will not meet the five-year cut-off will be offered the opportunity to stay on until they become eligible for the ‘settled status.’ The cut-off date for this five-year period is not known as negotiations between the UK and the EU are still ongoing. These plans, however, are contingent upon the EU offering a similar deal to UK expats living elsewhere in the EU, PM May had affirmed. Such UK nationals numbered around 785,000 in December 2018.
EU citizens in the UK continue to remain jittery despite the UK government’s earlier reassurances and are deeply concerned over the outcome of the negotiations. The new government headed by PM Boris Johnson that assumed charge on July 24, 2019, has avoided any mention of a new legislation to guarantee the rights of EU nationals, and just made verbal promises. Many EU residents have decided to apply for UK citizenship to avert any unpleasant outcome. According to news reports from late August 2017, the UK Home Office has received approximately 28,502 applications from EU nationals seeking UK citizenship (between July 2016 and June 2017). This is an 80% increase from the applications (of EU citizens in the UK) in 2015-16.
Currently, there are 3.6 million EU nationals (including about 600,000 children) living in the UK. Their legal status will become clear only when the negotiations between the UK and the EU are finalized but it looks unlikely that there could be a mass exodus over the Brexit.
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