Can EU nationals still move freely to the UK?

After many, many months of seemingly endless negotiations, Brexit day finally passed on 31 January 2020. But for those EU citizens living in the UK, or thinking about moving here, what does this historic deadline mean?

Transition phase


Despite the passing of Brexit day, very little has changed since then, or is likely to drastically alter in the foreseeable future. Negotiations are ongoing and it’s expected to take considerable time to tie up all the loose ends.

In the meantime, the UK and EU have entered a transition phase, which will last until 31 December 2020. During this period the UK will still adhere to EU regulations.

This means that EU citizens have the freedom to freely move to the UK during this transition period, while UK citizens equally have the right to move freely to EU countries during this time. During this transition, EU nationals will only need to show their identity card or EU passport as proof of right to employment in the UK, as in previous years.

Post transition phase

From the start of January 2021, EU nationals will no longer have the right to move freely to the UK. Like non-EU nationals, they will need to apply for a visa if they wish to live or work there.

EU nationals currently in the UK

Around 3.5 million citizens of EU countries currently reside in the UK, so, naturally, there has been a lot of discussion about what the rights of these people are after the end of the transition period.

The UK government has declared that EU nationals currently living in the UK will have the right to remain here. However, they must apply for legal status under a new EU settlement scheme. EU nationals who can prove with documentation that they have lived in the UK for at least five years will gain settled status. Those living in the UK for less than five years can obtain pre-settled status, which can be upgraded to settled status after passing five years. Applicants have up until 20 June 2021 to apply online.

Immigration rules

The government is in the throes of establishing an immigration system that will come into effect after the end of the transition period. EU nationals will need to make an immigration application to obtain a valid visa if they wish to live and work in the UK in the future. It is likely that this will be based on a points system, similar to other countries such as Australia.

Current proposals suggest that an immigration applicant will need to be able to speak English, have a skilled-level job offer (with a salary of at least £25,600) from an approved employer and have 70 points to gain a visa into the UK. Applicants earning £23,000 or more and have a PhD will also be eligible.

Family rules

UK nationals who have been living in EU countries have the right to return to the UK post-Brexit. However, if they bring any close family members with them who are EU citizens, they will be eligible to stay without needing to apply for a visa only up until 29 March 2022. After this, close family members will then need to obtain a visa.