Brexit: The current law on EEA nationals living and working in NI


In the wake of the Brexit referendum on 23rd June 2016, many European nationals living and working in Northern Ireland face considerable uncertainty in terms of their future here – Will they be allowed to remain in NI where many have made family lives and homes for themselves?  Or will they have to leave and settle in either their European national state of origin or an alternative European state?

Unfortunately as it presently stands, no definitive answer has been given by the government on the effect that Brexit will have on current European nationals living and working here in NI.  
In light of this, we are here to provide you with some further information on the current law governing the right of European nationals to work and reside in NI.  
What is the European Union (EU?)

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of countries.  The countries that are part of the EU are:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK.

What is the European Economic Area (EEA)?

The European Economic Area (EEA) is the area in which agreement provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market.

The European Economic Area includes all EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.  Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market – this means that Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in NI as other EEA nationals.

Countries that are part of the EEA are known as Member States.  Nationals of these countries are known as EEA nationals.

 Are EEA nationals permitted to live and work in the UK & Northern Ireland?

European law bestows on all EEA nationals and their family members the right to move freely and reside within the EU.  Therefore, an EEA national can live and reside in another Member State, including the UK & Northern Ireland.  Similarly, a citizen from the UK or Northern Ireland can choose to live and work in any other EU Member State.

The law governing this area in the UK is the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006 – this piece of legislation applies and interprets the UK’s obligations under the Free Movement of Persons Directive 2004/38/EC into domestic law.

Are there any criteria that need to be satisfied?

In order to enter the UK, an EEA national must firstly produce a valid national identity card or passport issued by an EEA Member State.  Once admitted to the UK, an EEA national may live here for up to three months.

If an EEA national wishes to reside in the UK for more than three months, they will have to show that they are what is known as a ‘qualified person’.

What is a qualified person?

A qualified person is defined as an EEA national who is in the UK and exercising free movement rights.  A person will be deemed to be exercising their rights of free movement if they can satisfy that they are one of the following:-

  • a worker;
  • a job seeker;
  • a person who is permanently incapable of work owing to industrial disease or injury;
  • a person who is permanently incapable of work for reasons other than industrial disease or injury and has been resident in the UK for at least two years prior to stopping work;
  • a self employed person;
  • a self sufficient person;
  • certain retired persons;
  • some persons who are temporarily unemployed;
  • students;
What paperwork do I need to have?

Technically, no legal documentation (other than an identity card/passport) is required by an EEA national to prove that they are legally entitled to reside in another EEA Member State however many will apply for a document known as a Registration Certificate to have as confirmation of their  right of residence. Applications for a Registration Certificate are made via the UK Home Office.

Can an EEA national obtain permanent residence in the UK/NI?

An EEA national can apply for  a document certifying permanent residence in the UK/NI once they have lived here for a period of 5 years so long as throughout that time they have retained their status as a qualified person throughout that time.  This is known as a Permanent Residence Card. These applications are also made via the Home Office.

Can an EEA national obtain British citizenship?

Once an individual holds a Permanent Residence Card in the UK/NI for 12 months,  they are entitled to apply for naturalisation as a British Citizen subject to other conditions contained in the British Nationality Act 1981

Following Brexit, it will no doubt take some time before the government and individuals know specifically where we all stand in relation to the rest of the EU.  In the meantime, the above position continues to apply for those EU nationals living and working in the UK.
If you require any further information on this area of Immigration Law, please contact us here or alternatively contact


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