Typically, the area of citizenship is relatively slow moving. It is rare for there to be a major event or law change that has an impact, or even makes the news.
However, on 23rd June 2016 this changed. The people of the United Kingdom voted by a slim margin to leave the European Union.
In advance of this vote, many concerned people that might be impacted by a leave vote had begun to investigate the legality of their situation.
As a citizen of the European Union, anyone from an EU Member State has the legal right to live and work in any other EU Member State. This is a core principle of the EU.
However, there are many people that are now finding that their legal right to live and work where they do may be compromised.
For example, it is estimated that there are 1 million EU citizens living in London. Should the UK decide that these people need to leave the city, it is impossible to imagine that anything other that economic chaos will follow. One million people moving away would devastate any real estate and rental market and have a serious impact on the local job market, but many firms would suddenly find themselves with such an acute labour shortage that they may not be able to continue to trade.
In the other direction, there are estimated to be 4.9 million British citizens that live abroad. Many of these live in another EU Member State and their status may be impacted. Your author, for example, has lived in Malta, a small island in the central Mediterranean Sea, for five years. I will begin the process of applying for permanent residency in the coming days.
It is easy to imagine that the rather sleepy world of residency and citizenship applications will be overrun by the sheer volume of applicants in the coming months. Typically, the application process is one that takes several years, but there will be so many people under pressure to obtain the correct documentation that these rules will almost certainly need to be revised, both in the UK and the rest of the EU.
Since the legal right to live and work in a location is so fundamental, there will be many employers in a panic at the moment. Smaller businesses will have many key employees that may now need to move away and so putting the resources in place to assist these staff will become a priority. One would imagine that lawyers with a specialisation in citizenship law ought to have a bumper few years of work.
How Will Governments React?
Within EU policy circles it has long been accepted that there simply are not enough skilled people in the workforce for the number of available positions and that this situation will intensify over the coming years. This is known as the war for talent.
It seems obvious that losing one million or more from the workforce of a country will exacerbate this situation. However, Germany is already considering raising the stakes by making EU passports available to British young people. If such a scheme were to become a reality it might have the impact of creating a double brain drain from the UK, as large numbers of UK and non-UK citizens might leave the country.
Whatever happens, the Brexit negotiations look set to be a defining moment for a generation of British and European businesses and their staff and an almighty headache for civil servants involved in the processing and granting of official documents.