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Brexit transition period: citizens’ rights

The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement came into effect on 31 January 2020, having been implemented in UK law through the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act.

Part II of the Withdrawal Agreement contains the provisions on citizens’ rights.

Rights and obligations during the transitional period

Title II confirms that residency rights (Art 13) and the right to travel into and out of the UK without visa (Art 14) is secured for EU citizens and their family members throughout the transitional period.

Employment rights are secured until the end of the transitional period (Art 22), along with non-discrimination on grounds of nationality (Art 23).

The Withdrawal Agreement states that, during the transitional period, EU workers in the UK have the same labour rights, social security entitlements and tax treatment as UK nationals (Art 24).

All EU professional qualifications are recognised in the UK during the transitional period (Art 27).

During this period, an EU passport is sufficient proof that individuals are entitled to these provisions.

Preparing for life after the transitional period

EU citizens resident for more than five years

EU citizens and family members who have been resident in the UK for more than five years ought to be entitled to remain in the UK permanently (Art 15), though this is subject to UK requirements on process and registration (Art 18).

The UK government has established the settled status scheme as the process for ensuring that these rights are recognised.

Eligible applicants should apply on an individual basis for settled status during the transitional period, if they have not already done so.

EU citizens residing in the UK will not be protected past the end of the transition period if they only apply for “permanent residence” under the EEA Regulations, as it will cease to be valid at the end of the period.

EU citizens resident for fewer than five years

If an EU citizen or family member has been living in the UK for fewer than five years, they have the option of applying during the transitional period for pre-settled status.

This can be exchanged for settled status after five years has been completed.

In the interim, the pre-settled status negates the need for visa requirements after the end of the transitional period.

Non-EU citizens

If a family member of an EU citizen is a non-EU/EEA citizen, there is the option to apply for settled or pre-settled status linking their application to that of the EU citizen.

This can be done either:

  • immediately after the EU citizen has submitted their own application, using the application number
  • in the applicant’s own right based on their own records

Settled/pre-settled status and UK citizenship

Following the transitional period, employers, hospitals and landlords can demand proof of settled/pre-settled status.

The Home Office letter is not proof of status: successful applicants must be able to provide access to the digital proof of status.

One year after receipt of settled status, individuals can apply for UK citizenship provided they meet all the other statutory requirements which include:

  • residence
  • language
  • good character requirements

EU citizens with professional qualifications should seek to have them recognised in the UK during the transitional period, to ensure they remain recognised afterwards.

Where individuals have an ongoing procedure for recognition at the end of the transitional period, the UK authority will be able to retain and resolve the matter (Art 28).

EU citizens who choose not to remain in the UK should be reassured that the UK government has committed under Part Two, Title III of the Withdrawal Agreement to continue to co-ordinate with the EU on social security systems and entitlements.

Contact us

Marcus Corry
EU internal market adviser

UK Law Societies Joint Brussels Office
Avenue des Nerviens 85
B-1040 Brussels

Call: +32 (0)2 743 85 85

Mobile: +44 (0)7976 182202


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