Whether or not the UK manages to strike a deal with the EU, the British government intends to end the free movement of people to Britain from the EU and replace this with a new immigration system in 2020.
This is of course a major concern for the many EU-national architects working in the UK and the practices that employ them.
The status of EU citizens currently resident in the UK will remain the same until 30 June 2021. But the government has set up the EU Settlement Scheme to allow them to apply to continue living in Britain after that date.
Those wishing to apply can now do so and have until June 2021. However, if the UK leaves without a deal, this deadline will be earlier: 31 December 2020.
The process awards successful applicants with either ‘settled status’ or ‘pre-settled status’. Both are dependant on having started living in the UK by 31 December 2020 (or by 12 April 2019 in a no-deal situation).
Applicants are likely to receive settled status if they have lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period.
Those receiving pre-settled status may apply to change this to settled status after they have had five years’ continuous residence in the UK. Therefore, if a potential applicant is likely to have five years’ continuous residence before 30 December 2020, they might choose to delay their application until that point.
PLP Architecture, a practice with a workforce comprised of almost 50% non-UK nationals, have found the application process gratifyingly easy to deal with. This is largely thanks to being able to apply using a phone app.
"We have a high number of EU and international staff," explains Sonal Rathod, HR Manager at PLP. "We like to recruit people from all over the world, we sponsor work permits, and we have been keeping staff informed about what's going on so we have been supporting EU citizens to apply for the EU Settlement Visa."
Several members of PLP’s staff have made an application and had it approved within two hours. "It really is an easy process," Rathod enthuses. "Settled and pre-settled status is very clear-cut on the government website: it spells out what you need to apply and how to go about it."
Applicants can apply using a laptop, desktop, Android device or iPhone. "The government has made the application process quite simple on the whole," Rathod says.
"Previously, international staff were able to apply for permanent residency cards. If you have applied for a permanent residency card and have one, that will now be converted to a pre-settled or settled visa."
While PLP’s international staff are all extremely concerned about Brexit, they have come to different conclusions about staying in the UK. "Some staff took the attitude of 'if they don’t want us, we won’t stay'," states Rathod.
"We have had a couple of staff members leave on that basis, though not a high number. Others are adopting a 'wait and see' attitude." Reassurance, she suggests, is what most of their international staff seem to want.
Renos Charitou, a Director at PLP, recently used the Android app to apply and found the process straightforward. Charitou came to Britain from Cyprus to study in 1996, ten years before Cyprus became part of the EU.
"I have some architect friends that were thinking of leaving," he says. "The referendum result gave them the incentive to make a decision and they have recently left. But the majority are planning to stay."
The end to freedom of movement is his biggest concern. "It will deter talented people from wanting to come to the UK," he warns. "Not just in our profession but in all fields; the construction industry included."
Thanks to Sonal Rathod and Renos Charitou, PLP Architecture.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas