Citizenship Under Scrutiny in Brexit Talks

By Savannah Green (CMC ’20)

The topic of citizenship in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe has been consistently discussed since the beginning of Brexit talks. Though the UK’s exit from the European Union is still not finalized, many EU citizens living in the UK (and vice versa) are worried about their status post-Brexit. EU citizenship brings a multitude of perks, including seamless travel and residency across borders. If current Brexit talks do not yield an agreement, the UK will leave the European Union without a deal and many UK and EU citizens alike will see their jobs and studies thrown into limbo.

Luckily for many of these citizens, the UK allows dual citizenship. One of the first provisions the UK made in negotiations is that EU citizens living in the UK will not have their status changed until June 30, 2021, if a Brexit deal is reached. If the UK leaves without a deal, the status will change on December 31, 2020. As these deadlines to apply approach with little progress toward a Brexit deal, it is unclear whether the UK will extend the dates to give people time to appropriately plan. Fortunately, the government has already begun accounting for the number of people that will be part of this change and are taking measures to ensure ease.

As citizens worry about their status, governments worry about the high influx of people into and out of various regions and industries. EU citizens that are currently residing in the UK are encouraged to apply for “settled status” if they wish to remain in the UK indefinitely. Experts are estimating about 3.5 million EU citizens to apply for this special post-Brexit status in the coming two years. Thusly, people are becoming nervous about the immigration agency being able to handle that multitude of applications. They are especially worried about those who may be overlooked or left behind such as the elderly, children, and limited English speakers. Along with all other critical tasks involved in Brexit (such as maintaining the peace in Ireland and monitoring food supply chains), the government is now taking on the burden of sifting through and deciding on each of these special applications. There is a high likelihood that the task will take longer than the projected amount of time, so more special provisions will need to be made.

Because of these concerns, the government is working hard to streamline the process for these EU citizens and soon-to-be UK citizens. They have already begun the implementation of this EU Settlement Scheme and have information online that allows people to determine whether they need to apply or not. If citizens already have Irish citizenship or indefinite leave to remain in the UK they will not need to apply. This scheme also includes citizens in the EEA (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) and Swiss citizens.

Though many are happy that there is a plan in place, thus far it is not as streamlined as the government would like it to be. There have been reported issues with the mobile app that takes each person through the process. And if the app does not work, people are prompted to mail their passport to the immigration agency for a manual check, negating the entire purpose of the mobile app and further burdening the agency. If these kinks can be worked out, the process for most citizens should be easy and straightforward in an otherwise chaotic time for the UK.

It would be good for the government to give extra attention to this scheme because of the quickly devolving perceptions of the Brexit talks. With the decision on Brexit still in limbo, many citizens are becoming increasingly anxious about the outcome and how it will affect them. Hopefully many of these issues will be resolved once the Brexit negotiations come to a close and much of the turmoil that has consumed the British media begins to settle. Luckily, the EU citizens living in Britain can sleep with ease knowing that they will likely not be displaced simply because of Brexit and that the UK is working to try to keep them from leaving.

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