Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ll know that Brexit is on its way – and with it a wash of complications for Europeans living and working in the UK.
UK universities have been preparing for this eventuality and academics with European Union citizenship were among the first people eligible to apply for settlement through a government pilot scheme last year. The scheme is still in its trial stages but will open fully on March 30 this year, after which time all EU citizens will have to apply if they wish to stay in the UK.
With new developments being announced and denounced in Parliament every day, it’s no wonder that some still feel confused by Brexit jargon. Here, with expert help, we attempt to answer some of the most pressing questions.
According to Sarah Hoey, the University of Edinburgh’s in-house international staff advisor on all things Brexit, the most common queries on the lips of EU employees tend to revolve around how and when staff should apply for settled status, as well as “what happens if there’s no deal?”
The most recent data from Hesa suggest there are about 50,000 EU university staff currently work in UK higher education institutions. With this in mind, most institutions are set up to offer support to staff members going through the application process for settlement, whether in the form of financial aid, advice and/or legal expertise. A good first step for those considering their options, therefore, is to contact your HR department.
“There are some things which we are still uncertain about, a no-deal being one of them,” Ms Hoey explained, “but there are also lots of questions we can answer simply, and offer practical advice to help ease anxieties.”
Understanding the application process
Current UK Home Office guidance states that citizens of all 27 EU states living in the UK will need to apply for settled status before the end of December 2020. This includes EU citizens with permanent residence and non-EU nationals living in the UK with an EU citizen partner.
Irish citizens, EU citizens who have Indefinite Leave to Remain or Indefinite Leave to Enter the UK are exempt, but may still apply if they so choose.
Applications made before March must be done through an app. Once accepted, you will have the right to work in the UK, receive NHS healthcare, access public funds and travel out of the UK for a maximum of two years.
“To apply now, under the pilot scheme, you will need to get hold of an Android device – this is because the payment app is not currently available to download on other types of devices,” Ms Hoey explained. “The Home Office’s advice on this seems to be ‘borrow a friend’s’ but some universities will be able to assist with this.”
The pilot scheme application works by checking national insurance records, which should provide proof that the applicant is self-sufficient and abiding by taxes, “but there are options to provide extra evidence of eligibility for those who need it”, said Ms Hoey.
After 30 March, when the scheme opens fully, the application process is expected to become available online and accessible through all other devices.
A word on cost
On 21 January, the Prime Minister announced that there will be no fee when the scheme opens fully on 30 March. Anyone who has applied already – and paid the mandatory £65 charge – will be refunded, although details of how are yet to be confirmed.
With this in mind, said Ms Hoey, “it could be best to wait until after March to apply”. But, she caveated, “each person’s situation is different and I would advise you to do whatever suits you best. Some of our staff are happy to wait, others might feel less stressed by getting it done as soon as they can.”
Another reason for waiting it out is that “if you reach five years of living in the UK you can get full settled status as opposed to pre-settled status,” she explained. “If your five years is coming up before December 2020, it could be worth waiting so you only have to apply once.”
Most universities have already pledged to pay the cost of this on behalf of EU employees, either directly or reimbursed through expenses, so check your own institution’s guidelines before making a decision.
“My main advice to people who are understandably quite anxious about it is that you have until December 2020. There is no sudden drop-off after March; even in an event of a no deal, your rights are protected,” said Ms Hoey.
“People often ask me, ‘what happens if I don’t make an application?’ At the moment, nothing,” she added, “since the rights of university staff don’t change until 31 December 2020.”
Finally, there’s little point worrying about a worst-case scenario since it is “highly unlikely your application will be refused”. “The Home Office have made clear they are looking for reasons to accept rather than reject applications, so a criminal record is likely to be the only thing that could stop you,” said Ms Hoey.