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We Asked an Expert What Would Happen to EU Citizens Living in the UK in the Case of a Brexit

A few tips for EU nationals who'd like to stay in the UK, if the UK leaves the EU.

A Unionist rally in London during the Scottish Referendum. (Photo by Chris Giles)

The number of EU workers in the UK is currently at an all-time high with three million living in the country, which begs the question: what's in store for immigrants after the referendum on Thursday? While the Leave campaign has repeatedly insisted EU migrants' right to work and live in the UK will not be affected, free movement rights could effectively come to an end in the case of a Brexit. And even if EU nationals who are currently working and living in the UK don't have to leave, what would happen to new arrivals remains unclear. Moreover, some commentators claim that if Britain leave the EU nothing will actually happen for at least two years as the UK negotiates the terms of its withdrawal: but at the same time it's impossible to tell what sort of negotiations a post-Brexit government would initiate.


According to a ComRes survey commissioned by The Sun, 61 percent of Leave voters polled say they "would be willing to accept a short-term economic slowdown in order to see EU immigration controls tightened". But the same survey found that 68 percent insist they are "not willing to lose any money to reduce the number of migrants coming from Europe." With Brits so confused and contradicted on what a Brexit would or should achieve, migrants across the UK are facing a very uncertain future.

Some of them aren't taking any chances. According to the BBC, immigration lawyers are reporting an increase in the number of migrants applying for British citizenship. I wanted to know what EU nationals could possibly expect if Britain leaves the EU, so I got in touch with immigration solicitor Hayk Sayadyan from law firm Gulbenkian Andonian.

VICE: Hi Hayk. What do you think will happen to EU nationals if we leave the EU?
Hayk Sayadyan: Nothing is sure, yet. I don't believe anything will happen immediately, and I certainly don't think anybody is going to be kicking anybody out at the beginning. It's difficult to say to how long negotiations will take, because obviously the position of Britain in the EU isn't something that you can simply undo. There are a lot of legal nuances to be addressed.

Are EU nationals working in well-paid jobs in the UK likely to be affected?
I don't think so. I'm somehow sceptical that that will happen, because ultimately, as with anyone who works and lives in Britain, they're a continual source of income for the Treasury. It would be counter-intuitive for the Treasury to suddenly turn around and say, "We don't want this anymore". I'm sure the Chancellor has many, many infrastructural projects in the pipeline, and they have to be funded somehow.


What can EU migrants do to avoid having to leave the UK if we decide to leave the EU?
Well, if EU nationals have the opportunity to obtain British citizenship, that's of course a good course of action. That would take away any sense of uncertainty. Not just in the event of a Brexit, but travelling to America on a British passport is for instance significantly easier than on a Bulgarian or Greek one. And some professions in the UK can only be held by British and Irish citizens. If you want to be a judge here, you'll need to become a British or Irish citizen.

What are some other things EU citizens can do ahead of the referendum to ensure they can stay?
One of the things I often advise my EU citizen clients to do is to secure comprehensive private health insurance. It's a prevalent practice for people to have private medical insurance on the continent as well, but it's even more pertinent in Britain now – changes in the way the NHS is operating may result in EU citizens having to go through a bureaucratic nightmare. If EU nationals have private medical insurance, it would just make the whole process so much easier.

Anything else?
Another thing I would recommend is making sure that, in terms of your work, absolutely everything is above board. Make sure you're paying your taxes. If you're self-employed, you have to send tax returns off in a timely manner – to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation with a revenue inspector. Everyone can occasionally be tempted to cut corners in work, but it ends up costing twice as much in the long run. You'll be under a lot of scrutiny when you're in an active contact with revenue.


Thanks, Hayk.

More from VICE:

We Spoke to Nervous Brits Living in Berlin About the 'Brexit'

'Brexit: the Movie' Reveals Why the Upper Classes Are So Excited About the Prospect of Leaving the EU

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