Since the referendum vote in June 2016 and the subsequent triggering of Article 50 back in March 2017 EU citizens have been faced with uncertainty and unsettling times, but finally a breakthrough for all EU university staff and their families has arrived.
In various government proposals set out over the last year and a half and in the event there is a Brexit deal, the UK and EU have agreed on a new registration process known as the “EU Settlement Scheme” that all Europeans and their family members wishing to remain in the UK beyond 31 December 2020 will have to complete irrespective of their length of residence in the UK. The Scheme will fully open by the end of March 2019 and applications will be accepted until the cut-off date that has been confirmed as 30 June 2021.
In preparation for the “EU Settlement Scheme” the government launched a live pilot of the new application process. Settled status can be achieved by eligible EU citizens who have been living and working in the UK for five years or more, and pre-settled status can be achieved by eligible EU citizens who have living in the UK for less than five years at the date of their application. This live pilot involves twelve NHS Trusts in the North West and staff and students from three Liverpool universities.
More recently, the government has announced the second phase, extending the pilot scheme to include European staff of any UK higher education institution which has a Tier 4 sponsor licence, as well as their family members. To be eligible to take part, staff from UK HEIs which hold a Tier 4 sponsor licence must be EU citizens with a valid passport and proof of their residence, which can be assessed by providing their National Insurance number. The extension to HEI staff will go live on 15 November 2018 and eligible EU citizens can begin their applications for status until the pilot closes on 21 December 2018.
This is welcome news for UK universities and those EU citizens who fall within the widened scope of the EU Settlement Scheme, as it allows them to obtain either settled or pre-settled status once the UK has left the EU. It will provide much needed clarity for universities and their EU staff; latest data confirms that 50,000 EU staff are working in UK HEIs, so the vital contributions those staff have been making have been recognised. It is also a useful exercise for the government, as this second phase will enable them to ensure that the EU Settlement Scheme operates as effectively as it can, ready for when the Scheme is fully open early next year.