The UK’s nursing regulatory body has apologised after Irish nurses working in the UK received an email stating that they must register as EU citizens under the proposed settled status scheme.
Irish nurses expressed their “shock” and “upset” at the mixed signals they are receiving about their status in light of continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which regulates the profession and all nurses and midwives working in the UK, sent an email out to its EU-registered members last week which distressed many Irish nurses.
“The government has committed to protecting you and your family’s rights if you’re currently living in that UK…,” the email read. “However, you will have to apply for UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme to continue living in the UK after December 2020.”
The email made no reference to the broad reassurances that the UK and Irish governments have sought to give Irish citizens under the Common Travel Area (CTA) – a longstanding policy arrangement which ensures reciprocal rights between Irish citizens living in Ireland and vice versa.
Dr Gerry Lee, a nursing academic in Kings College London and member of the NMC, said that this was the first correspondence that the group’s members had received in relation to Brexit.
“I felt that the email should have reassured Irish nurses, especially when you look at the history of Irish nurses who have trained and worked in the UK,” said Dr Lee, adding that the email was a “shock” and caused “upset”.
An NMC spokesperson admitted in a statement to the Irish World that Irish citizens “have a right of residence in the UK that isn’t reliant on the UK’s membership of the EU” and said that, as per Home Office guidance, they will “not have to apply for settled status”.
“We should have made this clear in our email and we’re sorry for any distress it may have caused,” a spokesperson added.
A recent report, however, warned that the CTA has been overstated as a means of safeguarding social and movement rights between the two countries after Brexit and recommended that a new international treaty should be drafted.
Legal academics also told the Irish World that Irish citizens living in the UK should register as EU citizens under the UK’s proposed settled status scheme to protect status and prevent a Windrush-type scandal occurring.
Official guidance from the Irish government about the need to register for the settled status scheme – which aims to protect the residency status of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit – has not been forthcoming but should become public policy, Professor Aoife O’Donoghue, an author of the recent report, said.
Professor Dagmar Shiek, who specialises in EU law and has presented evidence to Westminster committees about the Common Travel Area, told the Irish World last month that recommendations that Irish citizens should rely solely upon the Common Travel Area are “incorrect”.
The official settled status document provided by the Home Office states: “Irish citizens enjoy a right of residence in the UK that is not reliant on the UK’s membership of the EU. They will not be required to apply for status under the scheme (but may do so if they wish).”
Dr Lee added of the recent email: “Given the current state of play, there is a huge amount of uncertainty and who knows what is going to happen but it seems disjointed when the Home Office say one thing and the NMC who have over 400,000 registrants do not reflect the same message.”
Settled status, as per the Home Office’s official guidelines, means one can stay in the UK for as long as they like and can apply for British citizenship if requirements are satisfied. Those in the country for less than five years will be granted “pre-settled status” which can be swapped for a full “settled status” ID after five years.
The scheme, according to the Home Office, will fully operational by 30 March 2019 with a deadline of summer 2021.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Dáil earlier this year that a number of Government departments were working on policy and legal decisions to ensure the CTA between Ireland and Britain continues after Brexit.
He stressed that it was a bilateral issue and that the UK and Ireland “may continue to make arrangements between themselves” relating to the movement of persons between their jurisdictions.
Prof Shiek acknowledged that the Irish government departments were internally working on such proposals but stated that neither the UK or Irish government had looked at how they might enforce the CTA in future.