The second phase of negotiations will concentrate on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. But what does the agreement mean for EU citizens living in the UK and the family businesses that employ them?
The government and the EU have agreed that the rights of citizens will be enshrined in a Withdrawal Agreement (the Agreement), so that EU citizens and their family members in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU "can carry on living their lives broadly as they do now".
The key points of the Agreement:
There will be a brand new process to handle applications for settled status. The government has stated that the new system will be "streamlined, user-friendly and draw on existing government data to minimise the burden on applicants to provide evidence." It has also confirmed that applications will not be refused on minor technicalities, that caseworkers considering applications will exercise discretion in favour of the applicant where appropriate and that it expects "the vast majority of cases to be granted, with refusals most likely to be because of serious criminality or if the person is not an EU citizen (or family member) or not resident in the UK".
A settled status application will cost no more than the fee paid by British citizens to get a passport. Those who already have permanent residence documentation will not be charged, but will still need to apply through a simpler process than the full scheme.
The new scheme for applications will be launched in the second half of this year, with qualifying individuals and their family members invited to apply on a voluntary basis. More information on this new process will be released by the Government in due course.
This announcement is subject to the caveat that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", meaning that if agreement cannot be reached on the future relationship between the UK and EU then the process outlined above may not be implemented. However, it certainly appears that there is sufficient goodwill on both sides for these arrangements to be ratified. This announcement will therefore hopefully provide comfort to EU citizens who have already made the UK their home. Family businesses who currently employ EU citizens are also likely to welcome the news that in the overwhelming majority of cases those existing employees will be able to remain in the UK and continue in those roles with little administrative burden.
While some EU citizens will object to being required to apply for status, it is hoped that the new scheme will be sufficiently streamlined and user-friendly that it is not such an onerous process.
Family businesses in the process of recruiting EU citizens will also be heartened to note that EU citizens arriving between now and the UK's withdrawal in March 2019 will be able to remain post-Brexit. Immigration schemes for EU citizens who wish to come to the UK after Brexit will be discussed as part of the next phase of negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
The government is still advising EU citizens living in the UK that there is no need for them to do anything at this stage. However, it is still possible for applications for Permanent Residence documentation to be submitted. That documentation will be converted into settled status documentation under a streamlined process once that scheme has been launched. Additionally, Permanent Residence documentation is still a requirement for EU citizens wishing to naturalise as British citizens.