Freedom of Movement Could be About to Change



Since Britain decided to leave The European Union, there has been significant analysis and speculation on the impact that this process will have on the world as we know it. With Theresa May due to publish a whitepaper this month outlining plans to end freedom of movement for EU citizens March 2019, this is likely to sharpen the focus on how these policies will impact on negotiations and what it will mean for British Expats too.

Whilst a soft Brexit could lead Britain into the EEC (European Economic Community) and a relatively limited impact on freedom of movement, a hard Brexit could bring significant challenges to expats and holiday makers that should not be ignored. A third option is that Britain is able to successfully negotiate a similar freedom of movement deal as the EEC but from outside of the collective.

With all these possibilities – what impact is it likely to have on British expats around the world?

Conditional Movement

It is unlikely that holiday makers will be too restricted by conditional movement legislation, however this is unlikely to extend to all expats or those looking to become expats in future. There is a strong possibility of the scenario where interim measures are put in place that restrict the freedom of movement as temporary (and time consuming) measures are put in place by the remaining countries in the EU.

For expats living in the EU, it is more likely that your rights will be similar to those held outside the EU by British Expats. You may be expected to produce proof of residency, work, contracts and financial documentation so it is wise to prepare for that eventuality.

A Priority VISA scheme looks like a strong possibility for the UK and in response it is likely that the EU will be ready to respond with a similar policy. So how would that affect British expats?

  • Countries would provide priority visas based on an individuals’ industry experience and specialisms aligning with their needs much like Australia do – this is likely to create hubs of British expats where expertise can be provided. Especially in areas of strength for Britain such as the banking industry.
  • Other countries could slow down or begin refusing British Expats to protect the job opportunities of EU citizens. Although any Government that adopts this is likely to come under considerable political pressure especially when the balance of trade is weighed in Britain’s favour.

Attitudes to Expats

Many campaigners have argued that Brexit would create negative feeling from EU citizens but quite the opposite is true. Whilst the majority of the EU didn’t want Brexit, the decision hasn’t turned them against the UK as a valuable ally and this is likely to be reflected in their attitudes to British expats.

Attitudes and nationalism in countries is likely to drive the decision making that individual countries make; however, freedom of movement is likely to largely be policy that is dictated by the EU rather than individual countries.

The Impact Outside the EU

A number of non-EU countries are eager to negotiate trade deals with a post-Brexit Britain and immigration is a big negotiating point. This could lead to new freedom of movement agreements to other parts of the world and could have a more significant impact on freedom of movement restrictions should the EU look to maintain the status quo.

  • The USA had previously stated under Obama (during Brexit campaigning) that the UK would not be a trade deal priority outside of the EU, but President Trump appears to have changed that stance – possibly due to his familial links to Scotland
  • Other countries like Australia may be convinced to allow freedom of movement to UK citizens as part of future trade reciprocal trade deals
  • Switzerland is not part of the EU but work alongside it as part of the EEC and so their approach to British Expats and freedom of movement is likely to be largely reflective of EU policy.

What Does This Mean for Expats

It is likely that there will be significant changes to freedom of movement, but many of these will change over time as immigration is used as part of trade deals and long-term negotiations. It is likely that not only UK and EU policies will be defined by these negotiations, but also the future of British foreign relations around the world, which will ultimately determine where the biggest impacts are made.

If the UK announce strict rules, it is likely that this will lead to more restrictions by other countries in response for British expats living in the affected countries. Ultimately, the true impact of these policies may not be seen for some time, but one thing is for certain that these policies will impact on freedom of movement policies around the world for years to come.

Trudi Hayes

The Author

Trudi Hayes

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