What happens to EU migrants in Britain
“IMMIGRATION, immigration, immigration,” shouted a headline in the Sun, a right-wing tabloid newspaper, the week that Britain voted to leave the European Union. It followed weeks of campaigning from the Leave side assuring voters that they would “take back control” and restrict EU migration if Britain left the club. Now that the referendum has just been won in favour of Brexit, what will happen to the EU migrants currently in Britain—and to British nationals living in the EU?
Some 3m EU nationals live in Britain, compared with 1.2m Britons who live on the continent. The volume of EU migrants coming to Britain has increased since the club was expanded in 2004. Last year net migration from the EU was at a historic high, mostly because fewer Brits were moving abroad. Many consider this a boon: according to research from the Centre for Economic Performance, a think-tank, EU migrants are more likely to be university-educated, less likely to claim benefits and more likely to be in a job than the native-born population.
The fate of both groups depends on the deal Britain strikes with the EU. Nothing will happen until (or, indeed, if) Article 50, which formally triggers the process of leaving the Union, is invoked by the British government. If the deal includes free movement of people, as in Norway, both sets of migrants would be left broadly as before. If not, the situation is far more complicated. According to Steve Peers, a law professor at the University of Essex, under EU law British citizens who have been resident in another EU country for five years or longer will be able to apply for long-term resident status, but this often means that the migrant has to learn the language. Moreover, older British migrants will probably no longer enjoy the protection to their pensions that comes with being part of the single market—pensions may be frozen rather than pegged to inflation.
Although it may come as a surprise to many who watched the campaign, the Leave side stated before the referendum that EU citizens who were “lawfully resident” in Britain would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain”. According to Sarah O’Connor at the Financial Times, 71% of EU migrants have been living in Britain for more than five years, which makes them eligible for permanent residence under existing laws. Depending on the deal Britain extracts from the EU, it is more likely that future migrants would be subject to tougher laws, or that family members of current EU migrants would not be allowed in to Britain. Yet although many EU migrants may be able to stay, some may decide not to. On June 27th David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, condemned the daubing of graffiti on a Polish community centre in London and the verbal abuse of people from ethnic minorities. Even without new rules, Britain is already becoming a less welcoming place.