Journal Article

EU Migration to and from the UK After Brexit

Published 1 September 2016 / By Carlos Vargas-Silva

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In the 2016 referendum over the UK's membership of the EU, the question of how Brexit would impact migration to the UK was a major point of contention. Those leading the campaign to leave the EU promised lower levels of immigration and the introduction of an "Australian type points based system" to regulate future inflows of EU nationals to the country, while at the same time maintaining access to the EU single market. At the same time, the status of EU nationals already living in the UK was not a key topic in the debate. The leaders of the campaign to leave the EU suggested that EU nationals already residing in the UK would be granted some form of residence permit and would retain most of their current rights. Likewise, there was little concern about the legal status of UK nationals in other EU countries and the argument that the "EU would be obliged to grant permanent settlement rights to Britons living in Ireland and mainland Europe".

Post-referendum deliberations suggest that these issues are much more complicated than indicated by the promises and assurances made during the referendum campaign. While the vote to leave the EU was largely driven by opposition to the free movement of workers, there is major uncertainty about what it actually means for future UK migration policy. Concerning the inflow of EU nationals, Brexit could mean tighter controls on the migration of EU nationals, but free movement could also remain largely unaffected if the UK were to follow a model such as that of Norway, which is not a member of the EU but has access to the EU single market as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). The post-referendum discussion has also made it clear that EU nationals currently living in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU countries do not have an automatic right to permanent settlement and that their final legal status will depend on the outcomes of negotiations between the UK and the rest of the EU.

This article looks at possible scenarios related to the introduction of admission criteria for EU nationals coming to the UK and related concerns for the status of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU countries.

This article is part of the Forum The Post-Brexit European Union.


Vargas-Silva, C. (2016) EU Migration to and from the UK After Brexit in Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, vol.51 no.5 (251-255)