EU nationals, charities and the threat of a no-deal Brexit

Chetal Patel

Chetal Patel is a partner in Bates Wells’ immigration team. With over 10 years of experience, Chetal specialises in business immigration with a particular focus on sponsoring individuals in the UK, employment related visa matters and volunteering in the UK. Chetal also provides strategic Brexit related advice to businesses and individuals. She has an interest in immigration compliance and the impacts of the UK’s hostile immigration environment. Chetal acts for a number of charities both in the UK and internationally.

We would’ve expected that, with mere weeks to go until the UK’s expected departure from the EU, things would’ve been sorted by now. In recent weeks major announcements from the UK government have yet again meant planning for the Halloween deadline for Brexit has been difficult. Parliament is now suspended, and it’s no wonder that the length and timing of this has caused much controversy.

With immigration and free movement being central to all of this, how can EU nationals and those engaged in the voluntary sector prepare for a no-deal Brexit?

The current position

UK law states that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October 2019, irrespective of whether a withdrawal deal has been agreed with Brussels or not. EU citizens and their qualifying family members’ resident in the UK before will be able to continue to reside in the UK and apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

However, on Monday 9 September 2019 new legislation received royal assent on Monday, which forces Boris Johnson to seek a delay until 31 January 2020 unless a deal – or a no-deal exit – is approved by 19 October by MPs.

As the goal posts may change yet again, my advice to charities and individuals is that where possible, arrangements should be made so that EU citizens and their family members enter the UK by 31 October 2019.

The EU settlement scheme received almost 300,000 applications in August – more than double the number of applications in July. Worryingly this has increased the backlog of yet-to-be-concluded applications by 100,000. Given that the legal date for leaving the EU is approaching and the ever increasing backlog, status should be obtained sooner rather than later. This may mean that some charities need to make some last minute changes to their contingency measures with regards to key recruitment plans, and address how they’ll deal with recruitment in terms of how they fill paid and unpaid roles.

What may happen after 31 October 2019

EU citizens and their family members entering the UK after 31 October 2019 will be able to live, work and study in the UK until 31 December 2020. If they wish to stay beyond 2020, they will need to apply for a UK immigration status. A new voluntary immigration scheme, called the European temporary leave to remain (Euro TLR) scheme will open after Brexit so that individuals can apply for this immigration status. If successful, they will be granted leave to remain in the UK for 36 months. For more information on this, you can read a blog from Bates Wells, which provides further background here. Equally the government’s policy paper can be found here. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has updated its guidance on visiting the UK after Brexit in the event of no deal.

What the future looks like

The home secretary has commissioned the migration advisory committee to conduct a review of the Australian points based system by January 2020. This system is a way of ranking or prioritising applicants for jobs based on their characteristics, such as education, language skills and work experience. Where roles in the voluntary sector would fit in is yet to be seen, so watch this space. Will all charities which want to employ EU nationals be expected to become sponsor licence holders? Will there be any concessions for EU nationals undertaking unpaid voluntary work? All of these unanswered questions need to be addressed by the government, and fast.

It’s never a dull day in my practice area at the moment and earlier this month, we saw UKVI publish a statement of changes to the immigration rules which includes provisions for access to the EU settlement scheme.

When the charity sector has been so heavily reliant on EU nationals some of which includes volunteers, it’s of upmost importance to undertake an analysis of the nature of the activities and the relationship between the individuals and the charities to assess if they are subject to immigration control.

What’s clear at this stage is that things may still change subject to Government decisions and time is running out.

 

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