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31 January 2020

At the latest after the last vote in the British Parliament it was clear that the United Kingdom would leave the EU on 31st January 2020. Thanks to a regulated transition period, however, the concrete effects of Brexit will only become apparent in 2021. The ultimate legal situation depends on the negotiations during this transition period. However, acquired rights will remain preserved even after Brexit.

(Short) Time for further Negotiations thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement

While the date for Brexit was repeatedly postponed after the vote in the United Kingdom, everything progressed extremely rapidly in January 2020, shortly before the exit date. After an unexpected back-and-forth of the withdrawal agreement in the British Parliament, Brexit was finally decided with the approval of the European Parliament. The withdrawal agreement provides a transition period from 1 February 2020 to 31 December 2020, during which the United Kingdom will remain part of the EU's internal market and customs union, but without any co-decision right. The bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU will also continue to apply. This means that British citizens can still invoke the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons ("FMPA") until the end of December 2020 and their rights will remain unchanged. The time during the transition period is intended to be used for the conclusion of further agreements to secure the legal situation for the period after 31 December 2020. Although these 11 months are extremely ambitious, Prime Minister Johnson is insisting on a definitive withdrawal on 1 January 2021. It is uncertain whether the most important legal issues will have been settled by then or whether there will then be the threat of another no-deal Brexit.

Legal Situation in Switzerland after the Transition Period

The Federal Council has taken steps to ensure good bilateral relations between Switzerland and the United Kingdom beyond Brexit. These include a series of agreements with the United Kingdom in the areas of trade, insurance, transport and immigration. These agreements are part of the Federal Council's "Mind the Gap" strategy, which aims to secure existing rights beyond the Brexit as far as possible. In the context of immigration, the agreement on citizens' rights is at the forefront. This will enter into force on the date on which the FMPA ceases to be applicable - probably after the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021. It safeguards the rights of Swiss and British citizens which they have acquired under the FMPA and ensures that they are in principle valid for life. These include, for example, residence rights, social security rights and the recognition of professional qualifications.

In contrast, the rights of British citizens who intend to enter Switzerland after the abolition of the FMPA are governed by the laws for third-country nationals (Foreign Nationals and Integration Act). This results in more difficult entry and residence rights and requires, among other things, compliance with the quotas laid down by the Federal Council. However, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are continuing their discussions which could lead to an agreement on residence and employment in Switzerland. In particular, however, constitutional requirements, such as Article 121a of the Swiss Federal Constitution on the control of immigration, must be respected.

If you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact our Immigration-Team.

Authors: Lea Germann, Urs Haegi

Topics: ImmigrationBrexitDealNo-DealWithdrawal AgreementTransition period

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