What the EU agreement on citizens’ rights means for farmworkers

Last week the government announced to great fanfare that it and the EU had come to an agreement about citizens’ rights post Brexit.

This will have a big impact on farms reliant on workers from other EU countries, particularly as Defra has made little noise about any new seasonal workers scheme.

As employers, farmers need to keep up to date with how this develops so they can plan for their businesses and help keep their EU employees informed.

So, what has been agreed and when will we find out more? What is likely to happen next? Here are the answers to what we know so far:

In summary, what has been agreed?

EU citizens living lawfully in the UK and UK nationals living lawfully in the EU by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and enjoy broadly the same rights and benefits as they do now.

What does this mean practically?

EU citizens wanting to stay in the UK after Brexit will have to apply for “Settled Status”. The detail of this means that:

  • Close family members will be able to join after the UK has left the EU. This includes spouses, unmarried partners, children, grandchildren, dependent parents and grandparents. Children born or adopted outside the UK after 29 March 2019 will also be covered. 
  • People will be able to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing settled status, more than double the level of absence allowed under current EU law. There will be the same reciprocal protection for UK nationals living in the EU.
  • Professional qualifications (eg. doctors and architects) will continue to be recognised where these are obtained before the date of the UK’s departure from the EU. 
  • It will be easy to apply for settled status and there will be a full right of appeal.
  • Those EU citizens who already hold a valid Permanent Residence document will be able to have their status converted to settled status free of charge. 
  • This agreement also provides certainty on healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system can benefit from what they’ve already put in and continue to benefit from existing co-ordination rules for future contributions.

See also: How business collaboration can help farmers

How can my workers apply for settled status?

EU citizens do not need to do anything at this stage.

The process for EU citizens to apply for settled status will start in the latter half of next year and run for two years after the UK leaves the EU – from 2018 to 2021.

The Home Office says is will be “much simpler and quicker” to apply for Settled Status than Permanent Residence. It will involve a completely new system.

Who is eligible to apply?

People who are citizens of other EU countries and who arrive in the UK before 29 March 2019 and have been in continuous residence in the UK for five years prior to this.

EU citizens who arrive before 29 March 2019, but have not been in the UK for five continuous years, will be able to continue to live and work in the UK for the two-year transition period after Brexit.

If by this point they have not reached the five-year threshold, they will then be able to apply for temporary residence permission until they have lived in the UK for five years continuously. After this they will then be eligible to apply for Settled Status.

Has everything been agreed?

The EU works on a principle that even if something is agreed earlier on in negotiations, nothing is set in stone until the final agreement. So there is a possibility that things could still change.

How can I keep up to date?

The Home Office has more detail about the agreement on the website EU citizens’ rights in the UK.

The .gov.uk page Status of EU citizens in the UK: what you need to know.

More detail is expected to emerge this week.

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