What Brexit means for EU workers

Little is certain about the impact of last Friday’s referendum on EU optometrists working in the UK

27 Jun 2016 by Olivia Wannan

EU flagEU practitioners based in the UK face an anxious wait to see what their prospects for staying are, following the 51.9% Leave victory in the June 23 referendum.

The free movement principles allowing the 2.9 million EU nationals already in Britain to work, study, run a business and temporarily look for work are up for review over the next two or more years, under the exit provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon.

As the Secretary of State's briefing document explained, of the two million UK residents living in the 27 other EU member states: “Specific rights to live, to work and access to pensions, healthcare and public services … are only guaranteed because of EU law.

“There would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained if the UK left the EU. Should an agreement be reached to maintain these rights, the expectation must be that this would have to be reciprocated for EU citizens in the UK.”

Leading Brexit campaigners have pledged that EU citizens already lawfully in the UK would be granted indefinite leave to stay. However, those on the Leave side countered this, saying EU nationals would lose their rights to stay without a permit or visa.

Yet free movement of workers is one condition of full access to the EU single market, so may ultimately be part of the UK’s exit deal.

Law firm Fisher Meredith also believed that it was unlikely that EU migrants already living in the UK would be forced to leave under an exit deal, as noted in a company blog post.

“However, one category that can expect to be hit hard in the event of an ‘out’ vote will be non-EU citizens whose right to live in the UK derives from their EU family members.

“Case law has expanded this principle in unexpected directions in recent years, most notably giving non-EU parents of EU children the right to live in the EU in the form of the Zambrano judgment – a development fiercely and unsuccessfully contested by the UK government,” the firm outlined.

Fisher Meredith highlighted that EU citizens who had lived in the UK for more than five years had the right to permanent residence.

There was a surge in EU nationals applying for British citizenship in the weeks before last week’s vote.

AOP legal and regulatory services director, Gerda Goldinger, told OT that: "In light of the outcome of the EU referendum, we would like to assure members that nothing has changed in terms of the insurance cover they receive through us, or to any of our other benefits.

"It is too early to predict any future legislative changes that may impact members, but we will continue to monitor this and inform members when necessary, and seek to positively influence change where we can.

"As always, members are welcome to contact us should they have any concerns,” Ms Goldinger emphasised.

The Brexit campaign has also called for “a genuine Australian-style points-based immigration system” following the country’s exit.

Australia’s system allocates an applicant points based on their employment skills, age, English language ability, qualifications and work experience inside and outside of Australia. Health and good character requirements must also be met.

A similar points system – considering English-speaking ability, salary and employment skills – is already in place in the UK for migrants from outside the European Economic Area, and this could be applied to EU nationals.

However, as the government briefing document outlining Britain’s path from here noted: “A vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It would begin a period of uncertainty, of unknown length, and an unpredictable outcome.”

Image credit: MPD01605


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