How will Brexit impact the ethnic minority sector?

On Tuesday 2nd October, NICVA held our tenth roundtable in the Brexit series with the focus of this session on how Brexit will impact the ethnic minority sector in Northern Ireland.

This session had great line up of speakers who were able to bring home what Brexit could mean for those EU nationals who live, work and study in Northern Ireland.

State of Play

Prof. David Phinnemore from Queen’s University Belfast started the session off by giving an overview of the state of play in the Brexit process highlighting that the UK and the EU are yet to agree the terms of the withdrawal agreement (it was previously hoped that these would be agreed for the October EU leaders meeting). Even when (if) a withdrawal deal is reached between the UK government and the EU27, there is still the mammoth task of getting it through the parliament in Westminster. If (and that’s a big IF) all goes to plan, the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 and enter into a transition period until December 2020 during which the UK will remain on the same terms as an EU Member State but with no seat at the table of the EU institutions and the future terms of the relationship between the UK and the EU, after the transition ends, will be negotiated.

The below diagram highlights where the negotiations are now at (phase two), with the Irish dimension - in particular finding a workable solution to avoiding a hard border - being one of the main barriers to agreement on a withdrawal deal and still only ‘limited progress’ being made to date.


There is a real chance that even if Theresa May does get a deal agreed with the EU27, the numbers for getting it endorsed through the UK parliament may not be sufficient, given poor Tory backbench support (both from hard Brexiteers and those seeking a softer Brexit than the Chequers proposals); Labour’s specific requirements for supporting a deal (essentially remaining in a customs union and single market); and uncertain DUP support. Considering the latest that a deal can be ratified in the UK parliament is January 2019, time is not on the UK government’s side!

Update from the Law Centre NI on Settlement Scheme

Elizabeth Griffith from the Law Centre NI provided an update on the situation for EU nationals here, and on the EU settlement scheme under which non-UK or Irish EU nationals and their families will be able to apply for ‘settled status’ and be allowed to continue to live in the UK. It was explained that the information on the settlement scheme applies in the context of there being a deal, however Theresa May has given an assurance that this will go ahead even if there is a ‘no deal’. In the current situation for EU nationals, those who have had 5 years exercising treaty rights (e.g. rights to work, study) could apply for permanent residence. In the new scheme, those EU nationals who have had 5 continuous years of residence in the UK can apply for settled status.

It was highlighted that there are currently EU nationals who had previously not been able to exercise treaty rights, but who have lived in the UK for 5 years or more and will be able to obtain settled status under this scheme - however it is still to be clarified if they will have the same rights as before.

Who is eligible to apply for settled status?

  • EU citizens
  • Close family members of EU citizens
  • Irish citizens do not need to apply
  • Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland [TBC]

What is the application process?

  • Online automated process
  • Options for vulnerable EU nationals who cannot satisfy online requirements
  • Options for settled status (if 5 years + obtained by 31 December 2020) or pre-settled status (if < 5 years but arrived by 31 December 2020)
  • Costs attached (max £65- but don’t have to pay again if already applied for permanent residence)
  • Criminality checks (serious crimes) – need to verify what constitutes this
  • Electronic identification rather than ID cards

What do EU nationals need to do at the moment?

  • British government position is European migrants do not need to do anything yet
  • But some people may wish to apply for Permanent Residence now including:
  • EEA nationals planning to apply for British citizenship
  • EEA / non-EEA couples who are divorcing

Key points

  • Nothing has changed at the moment, but the settled status scheme will open fully in March 2019
  • All EU citizens (except Irish) will have to apply for settled status
  • Free movement will cease 1 Jan 2021
  • The deadline for applying for settled status is 30 June 2021

Concerns raised about the scheme

  • Home Office haven't yet confirmed what the provisions will be for frontier (cross-border) workers.
  • Will those with settled status have the same access to rights and entitlements as those with permanent residence?
  • Will there be diverging rights?
  • The introduction of the scheme and the confusion and uncertainty around it may have knock on effects for non-EU non-UK/Irish nationals. 
  • What will the criminality checks entail and what will be constituted as a serious crime?
  • How are the Home Office disseminating information about this scheme to ensure that everyone who will be impact knows about it?
  • How will this work for seasonal workers?
  • Are assurances on the scheme guaranteed if no deal is reached?


Smoke and mirrors – Brexit reflections and concerns from ethnic minority communities and BME sector

Ola Sobieraj from the Stronger Together network provided an overview of reflections and concerns from ethnic minority communities and the BME sector. She highlighted that the Leave vote was a ‘big bang’ moment for the ethnic minority sector with a perceived change of attitudes, increased hostility, racist hate crime and violence. There have been increased feelings of fear and lack of security for those citizens living here who feel as if they have becoming a bargaining chip in the negotiations and there is a lack of representation for these communities.

Brexit concerns from the ethnic minority sector include:

  • Uncertainty around ability to remain in the UK/ fear of deportation
  • Bureaucracy and costs involved in securing status
  • Fear of Home Office error like the Windrush scandal
  • Losing ability to travel across Europe- border checks, visas, impact of travel on status
  • Racial profiling and racist language/discourse
  • One big border here (health service, employers, landlords, social security office etc.)
  • Uncertainty around family reunions
  • Access to rights and services- concerns around becoming a second-class citizen

It was highlighted that although there are some great organisations working to provide advice and assistance to EU nationals, there is a need for much more to reach those people on the ground and in communities who may not yet know or understand fully what the scheme means for them or what actions they will need to take to comply.

The session finished up with a roundtable discussion to further explore what the main Brexit concerns for the ethnic minority sector here were and possible support that could be provided. The notes from this discussion as well as all of the presentations and further information are attached.

NICVA Brexit Articles Timeline

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