Protecting EU Employees’ Rights After Brexit


This article was published in July 2016, pre-dating proposals to post-Brexit immigration rules. 

EU employees are anxiously awaiting confirmation that their right to live and work in the UK will be preserved following the referendum. Protecting EU employees’ rights after Brexit is now a business priority for the many UK industries relying heavily on workers from Europe.

For these organisations, recruitment concerns are outweighed only by the more immediate fear of losing their existing staff.

According to most experts, any future agreement that is reached between the UK and the EU will almost certainly preserve the rights of EU citizens presently working in the UK and the rights of those UK citizens elsewhere in the EU.

The alternative would be devastating for both the UK and the EU.

In reality, though, it will be some time before the Government makes any definite immigration policy announcements.

In the past, the UK has utilised a transitional Workers Registration Scheme (WRS), designed to restrict and monitor the impact of immigration from new EU countries.

Many expect a similar WRS system to be adopted for European Economic Area (EEA) workers presently residing in the UK.

There are, nevertheless, steps that UK organisations can take for protecting EU employees’ rights after Brexit, and ensuring that their family members are registered as qualified persons in the UK.

Registering ‘qualified persons’ and their families

Under existing EU policy, ‘qualified persons’ from the EEA and their families are entitled to certain working-related rights and other entitlements in the UK.

A qualified person is an EEA citizen in the UK who is either:

  • working;
  • self-employed;
  • self-sufficient;
  • studying; or
  • looking for work (if certain conditions are met).

Qualified persons do not have to register in order to receive their EEA ‘free movement’ entitlements but they may register their rights if they choose to.

Registration has previously been utilised by those seeking to prove their right to work in UK, mainly for claiming benefits and other services.

UK companies are now making registration applications to ensure the rights of EU employees and their families are recognised after Brexit.

Immediate family members of qualified persons can also apply for registration. These include:

  • spouses or civil partners of qualified persons;
  • children or grandchildren under 21 who are dependants of a qualified person (or the children or grandchildren of a spouse/civil partner); and
  • dependent parents or grandparents of a qualified person (or the dependent parents or grandparents of spouses/civil partners)

‘Extended family members’ may also apply, if the family member has lived in the same house as the qualified person prior to coming to the UK or has a serious medical condition and requires the personal care of the qualified person.

Extended family members include the following relatives of a qualified person or their spouse/civil partner:

  • a brother or sister;
  • a cousin;
  • an aunt or uncle; and
  • a niece or nephew.

For student qualified persons, only spouses/civil partners and dependent children can be registered as immediate family. All other relatives must apply as extended family members.

Unmarried partners of a qualified person can also apply as extended family members if able to demonstrate that they are in a lasting relationship.

Applications for registration are made directly to the Home Office using Form EEA (QP). Supporting documents, biometric information and a fee of £65 must accompany the application.

Applying for permanent residence

As a further way of protecting EU employees’ rights after Brexit, any EEA citizen who has lived in the UK for five years as a qualified person has the right to make an application for permanent residence.

This status confirms that the holder has the continued right of permanent residence in the UK under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 (‘the EEA Regulations’).

Eligible family members and extended family members who have lived in the UK with their qualified person family member for five continuous years also have a right to apply.

Family members who have switched to a ‘retained right of residence’ (available where a relationship with a qualified person ends in certain circumstances) who have stayed in the UK for a continuous period of five years or more also have the right to apply.

In some cases, permanent residence applications can be made even where the applicant has not lived in the UK for five years. This applies where an applicant has been living with an EEA qualified person but the qualified person ceases work because of death, retirement, permanent incapacity or because they have become self-employed in another EEA state but remain a UK resident.

As with qualified person registration, applications are made directly to the Home Office with supporting documents, biometric information and the prescribed fee of £65.

All applicants under the age of 16 must be accompanied by the application of a parent, guardian or person over the age of 18 with legal responsibility.

Seeking certainty after Brexit

Permanent residency is the best measure a EU employee can take to secure their future in the UK.

While it is highly unlikely future immigration policy will extinguish the rights of existing EU workers, in the face of uncertainty, it is prudent for employers to take whatever steps they can to mitigate risk.

We are experienced advisers to both employers and individuals on immigration options. To discuss the steps your organisation can take to protect EU employees after Brexit, please get in touch.


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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