The U.K. split with the EU has finally come to pass after a nearly four-year feud over issues such as trade, cooperation, and immigration policies. The Brexit split allows the U.K. to scuttle policies critics refer to as “open borders” and “mass migration.”
But the new rules being adopted by the country will have a significant impact on how families live, work, travel, and set down roots. At the center of this geopolitical storm are ordinary families trying to make informed decisions about the future.
Since a majority of U.K. citizens voted to sever ties in 2016, EU immigration laws have largely remained in effect. The Brexit process hostilities were so fierce that government officials opted for an extended transition period. That period recently timed out, triggering wide-sweeping changes.
After years of status quo rules, the fact that neither U.K. nor EU citizens can move about freely seems almost counterintuitive to the process that was in place. Even seemingly small things such as nationalized driver’s licenses and travel visas seem out of place.
In terms of EU citizens who live in the U.K., they are now tasked with applying for and securing a visa by June 30. Such applications are not necessarily automatic under new U.K. points systems.
Perhaps the most emotionally taxing aspect of Brexit will be its impact on family immigration laws and policies. The independent U.K. government appears determined to greatly reduce family-based immigration unless applicants meet a substantially higher threshold than they faced before Brexit.
For immigrants to make clear choices about living and working in the post-Brexit U.K., knowing the established immigration rules and the changes may prove invaluable.
What Visa Provisions are Expected to Remain the Same?
The Brexit movement was, in large part, a pushback against the open borders policies of the EU. Taxpaying citizens seemed to indicate — whether factual or not — migrants received entitlement benefits or undercut blue-collar wages.
New immigration policies address those concerns by giving priority visas to people who are expected to be high earners. These are immigration categories that are expected to remain in place.
- Investors: Individuals that bring large sums of money to the table or plan to create business opportunities can anticipate a smooth visa application process.
- Exceptional Talent: Current visa holders may be able to re-up using this option. New applicants will typically follow the Global Talent pathway, which is similar. The majority of the provisions have remained the same. The basic idea behind this pathway remaining in place is to avoid a so-called “brain drain” that would result from post-graduate degree holders, artists, and innovators being denied visas.
Applicants who succeed in these visa types may find fewer obstacles in bringing family members into the U.K. as long as they demonstrate their loved ones will not become a burden to taxpayers.
Changes Implemented for Families Applying for Skilled Worker Visas
Families with skilled workers will have to earn their way into the U.K. The post-Brexit regulations establish a points system. A skilled worker must acquire 70 points under the system. These include 50 points in what is being called Mandatory Employment Characteristics.
A skilled worker receives 20 points for having an approved employer sponsor them and 20 points for having a skilled-level job offer. Those who enjoy at least intermediate English language fluency are given 10 points. A category being touted as “Tradeable Characteristics” gives qualifying applicants points for things such as filling a position in an industry that suffers a worker shortage.
Skilled workers also earn points for reportedly taking a job that pays the industry standard salary, or the “going rate.” Job offers that pay only 80 percent or less of the going rate result in zero points toward the application. In terms of including family members, skilled worker visa holders with high-paying positions improve their chances by demonstrating they have the resources to support loved ones and keep them off government assistance.
Post-Brexit Visa Pathways Through Study
One of the challenges people from other countries face under the new Brexit immigration rules is English language proficiency. Policymakers do not appear to be trying to prevent people who are non-native speakers from obtaining visas. Visitors who were limited to 30-day study visas now have up to 180 days. This change applies to both the standard visa and short-term student visa. In effect, this increase offers people who are considering a skilled worker visa additional time to learn English.
In addition, students who specifically want to study English in the U.K. may be eligible for visas ranging from 6 to 11 months. The caveat to this extension is that employers and sponsors will no longer have the opportunity to assess English language skills. They can, however, articulate whether a short-term visa holder is on track to meet the standard. This facet of the post-Brexit immigration rules helps applicants earn the mandatory 10 points for fluency needed under the new points system.
EU Families in U.K. May be Impacted by EU Settlement Scheme
Family immigration rules will allow eligible families who have settled in the U.K. an opportunity to remain as long as they meet the criteria of the EU Settlement Scheme policy. If a family member arrived before Dec. 31, 2020, and has resided in the U.K. “continuously” for a minimum of five years, they may be eligible for settled status.
Those in the country, continuously, for less than five years may have an opportunity to apply for “pre-settled status” and remain. By completing the continuous five years, pre-settled individuals may then apply for settled status. Family members who arrived after Dec. 31 are considered ineligible. People who enjoy one of the following relationships may be eligible under the family rules.
- Spouses & Registered Domestic Partners
- Partners Who Cohabitate for a Minimum of Two Years
- Children, Grandchildren & Great-Grandchildren Under 21 Years Old
- Dependent Children 21 Years of Age or Older
- Other Dependent Relatives
- Dependent Relatives of a Spouse or Registered Partner
- Extended family members may also include siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
One of the critical terms that immigrating families would be wise to understand is what it means to be a “continuous resident.” The U.K. immigration rules typically define this as having a “presence” in the country. That does not mean someone owns a home or business.
It is generally understood that the family member cannot travel outside the U.K. for more than six months with a 12-month period. Those family members who split time between the U.K. and their country of origin would be well-served to keep close track of the days. But even this hard-and-fast rule has certain exemptions.
Common examples that may not negatively impact an application for settled status include pregnancy, serious illness, studying abroad, and mandatory military service. In these and other cases, a 12-month exemption may be permissible.
It’s also essential to note that government checks will likely be conducted to confirm settlement status criteria. Post-Brexit immigration rules also include a grace period, giving people who have settled in the U.K. and who wish to remain until June 30 to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Unskilled Workers & Families Face Immigration Adversity
The post-Brexit immigration laws heavily favor people with the financial means to support family members. This presents a significant challenge for blue-collar and under-skilled workers who typically earn lower salaries. Current rules include minimum family income thresholds.
Among the exceptions to the general rules meant to deter immigrants and their family members from accessing public entitlements are things such as seasonal agricultural work visas. Securing one may create an opportunity to pursue ways to learn English and earn enough points to apply for a long-term work visa.
The Brexit shakeup has created a sense of uncertainty for immigrants and family members hoping to settle in the U.K. Given the post-Brexit era’s evolving complexity, it may be in a visa applicant’s best interest to speak with a family immigration law professional.