EU Citizens’ Rights After Brexit


In the UK, there have been significant changes to the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.

For employers and individuals alike, it is important to understand what these changes are and how they impact immigration options.


What are the changes to EU nationals’ rights after Brexit?

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the end of EU free movement on 31 December 2020 and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system have resulted in key changes to EEA nationals’ rights to live, work and study in Britain after Brexit.

The rules effectively create a two-tier immigration system for EU nationals, covering those who have been resident in the UK before Brexit, and those who arrive after Brexit.

Those rights will largely be determined by whether the individual was in the UK by 31 December 2020.


EU nationals in the UK by 31 December 2020 

EU nationals living in Britain by 31 December 2020 have to register for settled status to be able to remain in the UK lawfully, to access public funds and to apply for British citizenship.

There are two levels of EU status; full settled status is granted to individuals who can show 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK. Pre settled status is granted to those who have not yet attained their 5 years’ residence at the point of registration. Once an individual attains their 5 years with pre-settled status, they can register for full settled status.

Settled status effectively gives EU citizens Indefinite Leave to Remain which is the status available to non-EEA nationals who have lived in the UK for more than five years.

The scheme applies to EU citizens and nationals of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. For full settled status, the individual must have been resident in the UK for at least five continuous years.

Importantly, settled status is not granted automatically. EU citizens have to register online to secure their residence status in the UK after 30 June 2021. Registration for settled status is free.

EU nationals with a permanent residence card are required to transfer their status by registering for settled status.

Failure to apply for settled status by 30 June 2021 will mean loss of lawful permission to remain in the UK.


EU family member rights

Family members of EU citizens (including children) who arrive in the UK before 31 December 2020 are able to apply for pre or full settled status.


EU nationals coming to the UK after 1 January 2021

EU nationals who are not eligible for settled status are subject to the new visa rules when travelling to the UK after the end of the Brexit transition period, from 1 January 2021.

In most cases, EU nationals will be allowed to visit the UK for up to 9o days for tourism without requiring a visa.

However, travellers should be prepared to be questioned at the border by immigration officials as to their planned activities. Officials have powers to detain and refuse entry if they have reasonable grounds to suspect the traveller intends to work but is not able to produce the necessary documentation.

EU nationals should ensure they have the correct permission in place before travelling to the UK. If travel is for work purposes, the relevant UK work visa will be needed. Travellers will need to factor in the additional cost and processing time if making an application to the Home Office.


EU family members 

EU nationals’ family members coming to the UK after 31 December 2020 are subject to the same rules as those that apply to foreign family members joining British citizens from abroad. This entails strict eligibility criteria, stringent application processes and higher visa costs.

For example, EU citizens in the UK wishing to bring over a non-UK resident spouse must meet a minimum salary threshold.


Frontier workers 

The changes in EU citizens’ UK rights present a specific problem for cross-border workers. So-called frontier workers are resident in an EU member state but work in the UK. They may not be eligible for settled status as they do not meet the residency requirement. In response, the UK Government launched a frontier worker permit to allow cross-border workers to continue their work activity without the burden and cost of applying for a UK work visa.

The frontier worker permit is free to register, but strict eligibility requirements apply, as we discuss in our article here.


Employer considerations 

For employers, the changes in EU citizen’s rights creates areas of immigration compliance risk.

How do you know which rule applies to individual EU workers?

A transition period is in place until 30 June 2021, during which time EU nationals must make their application to register for settled status and employers are not required to ask for proof of settled status as the list of acceptable documents for EU nationals will be unchanged.

From 1 July 2021, however, changes take effect requiring individuals to provide proof of EU settled, or pre settled, status, as part of a compliant Right to Work check.

The changes in EU rights will also impact the recruitment of EU nationals, who will now require a work visa to come to the UK for employment. In most cases, this will require the employer to have a sponsor licence to hire skilled workers, adding costs and time to the recruitment and onboarding process.

EU nationals travelling to the UK on business should also ensure that their reason for travel is permissible for the 90-day visa-free travel, and that they travel with supporting documentation to prove their reason for the visit. Border officials have substantial powers to deport if they have reasonable suspicion of your reason for travel.


Need assistance?

As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office employees, DavidsonMorris are highly experienced in advising individuals including EU citizens on UK settlement and entry options, eligibility and application processes.

We understand the stresses involved with securing your immigration status, providing advice on the options open to you, and handling any application processes on your behalf.

If you are concerned about your current or future status in the UK, or the impact of the changes in EU rights on your workforce and recruitment, contact us for advice.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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