Who may live and work in the UK?

How does EU membership determine who may live and work in the UK?

To understand how EU membership shapes UK migration policy, one must distinguish between two distinct areas of EU law and policy. This policy primer examines EU citizenship and free movement of persons as part of the common market. Another policy primer examines how the UK participates selectively in the Common European Asylum System and EU Immigration Law as regards immigration of so-called ‘Third Country Nationals’ (TCNs), that is, those who do not hold the nationality of the Member States.

At the core of the EU project remains a common market, which involves reciprocal commitments so that not only products (goods and services) but also the factors of production (labour and capital) can circulate freely. Free movement for workers and others exercising economic freedoms (e.g. service providers and recipients) has now largely been subsumed into the status of citizenship of the Union.

As explored in the next section, movement and residence in all Member States for EU nationals remains a defining feature of EU citizenship, so that UK nationals may in principle live anywhere they choose within the EU, and vice versa. Citizenship of the Union and the internal market freedoms mainly confer rights on EU citizens (i.e. those holding the nationality of the Member States). These provisions also create some derivative rights for TCNs, such as TCN family members of EU citizens and TCN workers ‘posted’ from one Member State to another to as part of an intra-EU provision of services.

While the UK’s commitments on EU citizenship and the internal market are part and parcel of its EU membership, the UK (together with Ireland, with which it shares a land border and a common travel area) has always maintained a distinctive position on borders and visas, as manifest in its opt-out of the Schengen arrangements. As explored below, the UK’s distinctive opt-out from Schengen has been legally controversial, yet it remains a defining feature of its EU relations.


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