On 23rd June 2016, history was made as the United Kingdom held a referendum, and voted in favour, by a marginal majority of 51.9% over 48.1%, of leaving the European Union, having been a member of the European Economic Community, as it was known at the time, since 1st January 1973.

Whilst the UK has not yet, at the time of publication, formally withdrawn from the EU, Theresa May has announced that she intends to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”) by the end of March 2017, meaning that the UK would officially leave the EU no later than April 2019.

This article will briefly consider the potential implications of Brexit, focusing in particular on the free movement rights provided under the TEU, from the perspective of persons moving across borders within the EU, either to, or from, the UK, to undertake religious work.

Missionaries are commonplace, and those religious workers crossing borders within the EU, at present, would likely utilise their free movement rights, being the freedom of movement and residence within the EU. Entering or leaving the UK in these circumstances would usually remove any visa requirements, as the production of a passport from a country being a member of the EU (“Member State”) should be sufficient to do so.

However, once the UK has formally withdrawn from the EU, the position may be somewhat different, as the free movement rights may be removed, or restricted, depending on what arrangements are put in place following negotiations between the UK and the EU on the terms of exit.

We understand it is Theresa May’s intention for the UK to retain access to the Single Market, meaning the UK would be free to trade with other Member States without any internal borders or other regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods or services.

It is likely that if we are to retain access to the benefits of the Single Market, we will have to ensure that our border controls do not disregard the free movement rights. As Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has stated, there is a clear interlink “between the access to the internal market and the basic principles of the internal market – namely the free movement of workers and we are sticking to that position.”

The implications of this approach are that for religious workers travelling between the UK and Member States, the status quo would remain in relation to free movement, and no visa requirements should arise for such travels.

If, however, exit negotiations result in the UK abandoning free movement rights, then it is likely that UK Visas and Immigration will impose new visa requirements which will have to be considered for religious persons entering the UK from the EU. By the same token, if a religious worker from the UK is sent to work in any EU Member State, the Member State’s respective visa requirements would need to be considered also.

There are currently several visa options for persons entering the UK from outside the EU in order to undertake religious work, but sponsorship is required, in addition to satisfaction of various other eligibility requirements. The process can be long-winded, and costly. If you require advice on sponsorship, do get in touch.

It is clear that, from a financial and practical perspective, religious orders and members would benefit from the UK retaining rights in relation to freedom of movement within the EU, should they wish to bring religious workers in from Member States, or send religious workers from the UK into Member States, but only time will tell how this will transpire.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for advice should you have any particular concerns in light of the above.

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