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No-deal Brexit: Residence and employment market access for EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU

European Union
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This article sets out the conditions under which EU citizens will be able to live and work in the UK, and how UK citizens will be able to live and work in EU member states (with a particular focus on Germany) in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

With effect from 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will, according to the current legal situation, no longer be a member state of the EU. After the UK House of Commons voted against the draft Brexit agreement on 15 January 2019, Brexit could now take place without an agreement regulating the relationship between the UK and the EU going forward. There will be a ‘no-deal Brexit’, unless a solution is found by 29 March 2019, such as the conclusion of an agreement, the postponement of the UK’s exit date or a revocation of the declaration of withdrawal. A no-deal Brexit poses various problems in terms of residence and employment rights of foreign citizens.

British citizens in Germany: permit requirement for residence and employment

Upon the withdrawal of the UK from the EU without an agreement that regulates the terms of exit, the United Kingdom ceases to be an EU member state (with the rights and obligations that EU membership entails) and becomes a non-EU, third country. British citizens, who have so far been able to enter, live and work in Germany and other EU countries without a combined residence / work permit under the provisions of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), will no longer be covered by these treaties once the UK has withdrawn from the EU.

As non-EU nationals, British citizens would, in principle, be prohibited from entering, residing in, or working in Germany (this is known as a ‘prohibition subject to permit’). British citizens would therefore require a permit (e.g. a visa or a combined residence / work permit) to enter Germany and stay in the country (s4 paragraph 1 Residence Act). In order to be allowed to work in Germany, British citizens would also need a combined residence / work permit allowing them to engage in gainful employment (s4 paragraph 3 Residence Act).

However, the German government has announced that it is planning a three-month extendable transition period after Brexit during which British citizens in Germany may continue to live and work in Germany as they did before Brexit.

British citizens in other EU countries: permit requirement for residence and employment

In the other EU member states, the entry, residence and employment of British nationals in the country concerned would also be governed by the relevant national and EU laws on the residence and employment of non-EU nationals. The national legal situation in other EU member states will be comparable to that of Germany, and as non-EU nationals, British citizens would therefore also require a residence permit and/or a work permit for the purposes of entry, residence and employment. In this respect, the relevant national regulations for residence and employment of third-country nationals for each member state need to be consulted.

EU citizens resident in the UK: the ‘EU settlement scheme’

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would, among other things, no longer be bound by the TEU and the TFEU. It would therefore no longer be obliged to allow EU citizens to enter the UK without a visa, and to stay and take up gainful employment there without a work permit.

The existing residence and employment market access rights of EU citizens living in the UK will remain unchanged up to and including 30 June 2021. In order to continue to enjoy unrestricted rights of residence and permission to work beyond this period, EU citizens living in the UK will need to apply for so-called ‘settled status’ or ‘pre-settled status’ under the new EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021. A permanent right of residence (that is, ‘settled status’), including access to the employment market, should be granted under normal circumstances if the EU citizen:

  • started living in the UK by 31 December 2020 and
  • has lived in the UK on a permanent basis for five years (so-called ‘continuous residence’).


If the five-year period of ‘continuous residence’ has not yet been fulfilled at the time of the application, the applicant will be granted ‘pre-settled status’ for a period of five years. If the five-year period of ‘continuous residence’ is fulfilled before the end of the five-year pre-settled period, ‘settled status’ will then be granted upon application. It has been possible to make such applications since 21 January 2019.

EU citizens not resident in the UK: Visa requirements for residence and employment

After Brexit, EU citizens not resident in the UK, and who therefore do not fall under the ‘EU settlement scheme’, will be subject to standard UK immigration law. This means that under normal circumstances they will need a visa to enter and stay in the UK, as well as a work or self-employed visa to work there.

Future prospects: Lawmakers can implement regulations for entry, residence and access to employment markets

It goes without saying that EU legislators, the German government and other EU member state governments have the right to create individual regulations for the entry, residence and employment market access of British citizens to Germany and the other EU member states. Conversely, UK lawmakers can create regulations governing entry, residence and employment of EU nationals in the UK. It is also possible for agreements to be concluded between the EU or individual EU member states on the one hand and the UK on the other. It is conceivable to imagine, for example, visa-free entry and a stay of up to 90 days within a 180-day period for UK citizens, as is the case for US citizens both under EU law (Art. 1 s2 in conjunction with Annex II Regulation (EC) 539/2001), and German law (s41 Section 1 Residence Regulation), although this does not include entitlement to work. However, concrete regulations have so far only been established to the extent described above. With little more than two months remaining until the withdrawal date, the situation remains full of uncertainty.

Julia Uznanski
Julia Uznanski
Associate - Germany
Kliemt.HR Lawyers