How Brexit will affect South Africans looking to emigrate to the UK and the rest of Europe

Brexit talks officially got underway on 19 June with politicians, lawyers and economists from the European Union and the United Kingdom discussing how the the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will actually work.

While it will be several years before Brexit is finally implemented (be it “hard” or “soft”), the effect the decision will have on the UK’s economy has already become apparent, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report released in May.

According to the report, net migration dropped by 248,000 in 2016, down 84,000 from 2015. The data shows that the majority of this drop is due to European citizens deciding to return to their home countries in the wake of Brexit.

It also found that going forward, the UK’s economy would have to adapt with the sudden job vacuum as well as dealing with a sudden skills shortage.

While this may leave the door open for South Africans looking to emigrate to fill this gap, there are a number of other factors to consider, according to emigration consultants.


South Africans looking to emigrate

Speaking to BusinessTech, JP Breytenbach, Director of Breytenbachs Immigration Consultants, highlighted that the South Africans most likely to be affected by the Brexit decision are those who are currently eligible through a EU or UK background.

“South African citizens are likely to be mostly affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU if they are family members of EU nationals, as it will no longer be possible to benefit from the more favourable regime provided by the EU law,” said Breytenbach

“As per above, once the UK formally leaves the European Union, EU nationals (including dual SA/EU nationals) may be required to apply for a visa under the UK domestic immigration legislation (e.g. for a work permit).”

“It is unclear, at this stage, whether the UK government will introduce some new visa categories or whether the existing immigration categories will be used for these new applications.”


Increased migration and job opportunities for South Africans

Jobless unemployment

While the increased migration will undoubtedly leave vacancies, Breytenbach warned that this didn’t necessarily translate to automatic job opportunities for South Africans looking to emigrate.

“Potentially, the departure of EU nationals from the UK could provide opportunities for South African to emigrate and find employment in the U.K,” he said.

“However, this will depend on the UK government policy as they had previously maintained that they will reduce net migration.”


What’s happening right now?

“Regarding the downgrade and recession in South Africa. Yes, we have experienced an increase in the number of queries received,” said Breytenbach.

“We have (also) definitely seen an in increase in the number of queries received from SA nationals and their family members who are here under the EU regulations, who are worried about their status in the UK after the Brexit.”

Breytenbach highlighted a new policy paper on Brexit “Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU”, released on 26 June, which further clarified the UK government’s position on migrants.

According to the policy paper:

  • The UK will honor EU citizens’ expectations to settle permanently in the country as the choice made in the Brexit Referendum will not unravel previous commitments.
  • After the exit of the UK from the EU, all EU citizens will be required to apply to the Home Office for permission to stay under the UK law, for either temporary or settled status.
  • Those who have resided in the UK for five years (before a specified date which is deemed to be no earlier than 29 March 2017 and no later than the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU) will be able to apply for settlement.
  • Those EU citizens who came to the UK before the specified date but have not yet resided in the country for five years will be able to apply for temporary status in order to remain resident until they have accumulated five years, after which they will be eligible to apply for settled status.
  • No expectation of guaranteed settled status will be given to those EU citizens who came to the UK after the specified date and the possibility to obtain settled status will depend on their specific circumstances.
  • Family members of EU nationals who arrive in the UK (to join their EU national) before the UK leaves the EU will be able to apply for settled status after five years (including where the five years falls after our exit), irrespective of the specified date.
  • However, those arriving after the UK’s exit from the EU will be subject to the same rules as those joining British citizens or alternatively to the post-exit immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after the specified date.

“It is worth mentioning that, at present and until the UK formally leaves the EU, nothing has changed and EU nationals and their family members who wish to come or remain in the UK will continue to enjoy the same rights under the EU legislation,” Breytenbach said.


Read: The cheapest and best time to fly in South Africa

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How Brexit will affect South Africans looking to emigrate to the UK and the rest of Europe