Following the referendum last Thursday in which the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union, there has been increasing concern and speculation as to what this means for the future of UK immigration law, particularly for EU citizens who currently live, work and study in the UK. Although nothing will change immediately, UK businesses will want to be aware of the possible repercussions of the EU referendum with regard to members of their workforce who are EU nationals.

So what happens now? Well in the short-term, nothing. Once the UK makes a formal notification to leave the EU, a two year notice period will be triggered during which negotiations will take place with the aim of reaching an agreement on the UK’s continued relationship with the EU. However, David Cameron has hinted that this formal notice period will not be initiated until a new Prime Minister is appointed in October 2016.

Once the UK has entered into a formal agreement with the EU, there is likely to be significant changes for UK immigration going forward. Exactly what these changes will look like is not yet known, but it is expected that they will impact the freedom to work, study and live, both in the UK and Europe for EU citizens and UK citizens respectively.

For EU nationals who are currently in the UK, it is likely that the exit negotiations will lead to a transitional period where steps will be taken to formalise their respective immigration statuses within the UK. It could be that those who are in the UK to study will be permitted to finish their degree course, but for those who are working in the UK or who have permanent residence in the UK a decision will need to be taken as to whether they can continue to work/live in the UK on a permanent basis and if so, whether they need to undergo a formal application process to do so.

If EU citizens want to come to the UK to work, study or live after the formal exit process has been completed, it may be that these individuals will need to apply for specific visas before doing so.  Whether the UK visa system will remain in its current form and require EU citizens to comply with the points based system to work and study in the UK (in the same way non-EEA nationals currently do) remains to be seen. It could be that we see a change to current UK immigration processes and procedures to either impose less stringent obligations for EU citizens (compared to non-EEA nationals) or provide for specific exceptions for those EU nationals who possess a certain skill level, but given the approach the Leave Campaign has taken towards immigration, it is likely that EU citizens will face at least some form of restriction on their movement to the UK.

Changes are also expected for those UK nationals who currently live or work in another EU member state, but it will be up to the EU as part of its negotiations with the UK to determine what is to happen to these individuals once the UK’s exit has been finalised.

As it stands, the extent of the changes to UK immigration in respect of EU nationals and the form that these changes will take following the UK’s formal exit from the EU is largely uncertain. Hopefully once the formal negotiations with the EU begin, the approach the UK government intends to take towards EU citizens going forward will become clearer. Until then, EU citizens should continue to live, study and be employed without immigration restrictions as they have done up until now.