For the past three years, the more than 3 million European Union citizens living in Britain have been in a state of limbo.
At first, it was unclear whether they and their families would be able to continue living and working in the country with the same rights they have now after Britain leaves the EU. Even once the British government unveiled plans last year to impose a new legal status for EU nationals to apply to stay in the country after Brexit, many of those affected feared that the sheer volume of applications could increase the uncertainty of their status.
Then, just two months ahead of Britain’s projected exit date, those ambiguities were made worse. Last week, the British government announced it would seek to end the free flow of EU nationals to Britain immediately after it leaves the bloc on October 31.
On its face, this decision is seemingly obvious. Freedom of movement, through which no restrictions are placed on citizens of EU countries who want to live and work across the bloc’s member states, is one of the cornerstones of EU citizenship. Britain, which voted to leave the EU over immigration and other issues, was bound to discontinue the policy after Brexit. But this stark shift in Britain’s immigration policy wasn’t expected overnight: Under plans set out by former Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, freedom of movement would be allowed to continue until at least the end of December 2020, the deadline by which EU nationals living in the country would need to apply for their new legal status to remain in the country after a no-deal Brexit (with a deal, that deadline was to be extended until June 2021).