Saturday 23 September 2017

300,000 Irish in UK after Brexit may need citizenship to stay on

More than 300,000 Irish people live in Britain - with many of them calling London, above, home
More than 300,000 Irish people live in Britain - with many of them calling London, above, home
Dan White

Dan White

More than 300,000 Irish people living and working in the UK face an uncertain future after Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty last Wednesday. With Britain seemingly determined to restrict rights of access for EU nationals, Ireland will quickly find itself in the firing line.

There were 3.07 million people born in other EU countries living in the UK in 2015. The largest group were 830,000 Poles with 381,000 people born in Ireland making up the second group.

Irish people have always been part of the greater UK labour market. This was seen most recently during the post-Celtic Tiger crash with 124,000 people emigrating from Ireland to the UK in the eight years to April 2016.

"The UK is an extension of the Irish labour market in many ways. Many people don't even think of it [moving to the UK] as emigration," said Ibec director of policy Fergal O'Brien.

Although Irish emigrants to the UK have many advantages over those from other EU countries, unlike other EU immigrants, Irish people have been reluctant to take out British nationality, with only 67,000 of the Irish-born people living in the UK, about 17pc of the total having done so.

By comparison, 63pc of Germans living in the UK have become British citizens.

The proportion of emigrants from most other EU countries with historic ties to the UK taking out British nationality is even higher, with 81pc of Maltese and 85pc of Cypriots living in the UK having done so.

A British Government statement last July pointed out that EU nationals who have lived continuously in the UK for at least five years had an automatic right of residence in the country, while EU nationals who had lived continuously in the UK for six years were eligible to apply for British citizenship.

The triggering of Article 50, which creates uncertainty about the future rights of Irish people living in the UK, has the potential to create mayhem for companies operating along the Border.

"Border businesses typically have a workforce drawn 50:50 from either side of the Border. They need to retain that flexibility of being able to access and manage talent from North and South," said O'Brien.

Also likely to be affected by any post-Brexit restrictions on the common travel area are the increasing number of people who are travelling from the North to work in the Republic.

While most attention has been focused on the implications of Brexit for Irish people living and working in the UK, there are also significant number of UK nationals living and working in Ireland, with the CSO estimating that there are 117,000 UK citizens living in this country.

"The UK is a very important labour pool for Irish business. A significant proportion of the specialist labour force, particularly in sectors such as life sciences and finance, comes from outside Ireland, particularly the UK," said O'Brien.

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