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The Home Office and the Prime Minister, David Cameron himself have recently suggested that around three million European nationals residing in the UK may have to be deported in case of a leave vote in the upcoming referendum.

Curiously, the total number of EU born migrants in the UK currently stands at just over 3 million according to the National Statistics Office. So, does the government suggest that it might have to deport all of the EU nationals in the UK? Surely, this cannot be the case.

First of all, EU nationals with a permanent residence status are allowed to reside in the UK indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Currently, EU nationals may qualify for the permanent residence status after five years of continuous residence in the UK. Permanent residence can only generally be lost should the status holder elect to reside outside of the UK for a continuous period of more than 2 years. Permanent residence is necessary for any application for the British citizenship.

Secondly, even if the UK votes “leave”, in reality, nothing is likely to change until the negotiation period is over. The UK will need to give the EU a two years notice of its intention to leave, during which the actual terms of its exit will need to be negotiated. In case of Greenland, which left the EU in 1985, it took them almost 3 years to negotiate the exit. So, in theory, EU nationals will still be able to continue to travel to and from the UK and apply for permanent residence during that period.

Finally, all EU citizens who have entered the country before the referendum (and perhaps even during the two years notice period after the referendum) would not be affected by the outcome of the referendum, as they will be able to retain their existing rights by virtue of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, which essentially states that withdrawal from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other, but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before withdrawal.

In reality, Brexit could potentially mean the end of free movement and the introduction of admission requirements for EU citizens who want to live and work in the UK. However, any country who has been admitted to the EU single market so far, had to sign up to the free movement of goods and services as a pre-condition.

Nevertheless, Edmans & Co are advising all EU nationals currently residing in the UK to apply for permanent residence status or British Citizenship as soon as possible, regardless of the outcome of the vote, to avoid even a slightest possibility of any uncertainties arising in the future.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you qualify for Permanent Residence or British Citizenship, our lawyers will be more than happy to assist.

© Emil Manasyan of Edmans & Co 

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