We now face the reality of a Leave vote. The long term immigration implications are not yet certain. However, for now, nothing changes. The UK remains a member of the EU today and will do for at least 2 years.
The mechanism for leaving the EU, set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), requires the UK to formally give notice of its intention to leave, triggering a 2 year period (which may be extended by unanimous agreement) after which its membership of the EU will cease. Considering the PM’s resignation, Article 50 is unlikely to be invoked until a new leader is in place in the Autumn. Once notice has been given, the UK will begin negotiations with the EU for the terms of the exit.
What will happen to EU migrants already in the UK?
EU citizens already in the UK continue to have free movement rights. It is expected that transitional arrangements will be made for these EU citizens to be granted permission under the UK immigration Rules when the UK leaves the EU. However it remains to be determined by the government what that permission will be (indefinite or temporary), where the line will be drawn (eg those who have already acquired permanent residence under EU law having lived in the UK for 5 years will likely be unaffected). However, those present in the UK on the date of the referendum, those present in the UK on the date the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, will require a new application process.
What will happen to EU nationals wishing to come to the UK once it is no longer in the EU?
Nationals of EU member states would need to meet the requirements of UK domestic immigration laws. For those simply visiting the UK for leisure or business there is unlikely to be a significant impact, but for those seeking to work or study in the UK, it is expected that entry clearance applications will be required, in the same way as non-EU nationals.
It is very unlikely however that the UK Immigration Rules will remain entirely in their current form. With respect to business migration, the present Rules were designed to meet the UK’s skilled migrant labour needs, in addition to EU labour availability so inevitably must be re-designed to address the totality of the UK’s labour needs – both high skilled and low skilled. Procedural changes are also likely to be necessary to enable the UK to cope with the increased number of applications to be processed.
What will happen to UK citizens living in other EU member states?
Again, there is no immediate change for British citizens in the EU. Ultimately the position of British citizens in the EU will be a matter for the EU and the constituent member states and this will be a key part of the exit negotiations. Undoubtedly the UK will wish to secure the status of its citizens abroad and reciprocity is likely to feature highly in the negotiating positions.