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The Common Travel Area – Working and Residency Rights Post-Brexit


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A recent agreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland will allow citizens of both countries to retain the right to live and work in either country after the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).



There had been concerns that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU could affect the rights of Irish citizens and UK citizens within the Common Travel Area. Free movement, including the right to live, work and access public services in the Common Travel Area (CTA), however, will now be protected, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU), the “Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019” places many of the CTA rights in legislation, including allowing for the relevant ministers to legislate in the areas of providing equal access to health care and social welfare, for example. The MoU also guarantees the reciprocal rights of Irish and British citizens under the CTA.

The agreement also ensures citizens’ ongoing access to social security, health and education, with the continuation of the CTA scheme. The CTA, in existence for nearly 100 years, includes several pieces of legislation and bilateral administrative agreements. The UK and Ireland agreed that existing arrangements on social insurance, child benefit and pensions should continue, while new arrangements also should be made to ensure that British and Irish citizens continue to have uninterrupted and equal access to public health and education services in in their respective countries.


The Common Travel Area

The CTA allows Irish and British citizens to move freely between the two countries and reside in either jurisdiction. Irish and British citizens have access to employment, health care, education, social benefits, and the right to vote in certain elections. The CTA pre-dates Irish and UK membership of the EU and is not dependent on it. The governments of Ireland and the UK have expressed their commitment to maintaining the CTA.

The CTA arrangement was implemented 1922, however, it was not contained in any specific legislation. Instead, it was an understanding between the two countries based on their common history and the challenges related to immigration controls, due to a shared border. Many of the rights were gradually incorporated into different pieces of legislation in Ireland and the UK.

The CTA is not dependant on the EU and the continuing membership of both countries, however, it is recognised under the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Additionally, the CTA does not apply to goods or customs. Both countries’ membership of the EU allows for the he movement of goods and does not require customs posts on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland or customs duties between the UK and Ireland.


CTA Rights

Only citizens of Ireland and the UK can exercise CTA rights and have the right to live, travel, work and study within the CTA. The UK, for the purposes of the Common Travel Area, covers England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Irish and UK citizens may reside in either country and have certain rights and privileges, including access to:

As the CTA relates to immigration, a third country national, for example, could be denied permission to enter Ireland if they also intended to travel to the UK and would not be able to qualify for admission to the UK under the Aliens (Amendment) Order 1975. Irish immigration officers routinely carry out checks on individuals arriving in Ireland from the UK and may refuse them entry on the same grounds that apply to individuals who arrive from outside the CTA.

Since December 2011, the Irish and UK governments have secured the external CTA border and regularly exchange biographic and biometric visa data and information regarding failed asylum seekers. There is a joint UK-Ireland A CTA Forum overseen by both countries implements these measures.


British citizens in Ireland

British citizens may move to Ireland to live, work or retire. Unlike other EU citizens, British citizens do not have to demonstrate that they have sufficient resources or private health insurance to retire. This is because British citizens are may use Irish public services on the same way that Irish citizens in Ireland can.

British citizens, including Manx people and Channel Islanders are not entitled to the EU’s freedom of movement provisions, but are exempt from immigration control and cannot be deported. They may live in Ireland without any restrictions or conditions and have, except for certain exceptions, never been treated as foreigners under Irish law and are not subject to the Aliens Act 1935 or to the orders made under the Act.


Irish citizens in the UK

Unlike citizens in the UK, Irish citizens have generally not been subject to entry control in the United Kingdom and, if they move to the UK, are considered to have “settled status” (a status that goes beyond indefinite leave to remain). They may be subject to deportation from the UK upon the same basis as other European Economic Area nationals. The British government implemented a more lenient procedure to apply to the deportation of Irish citizens compared to that of other European Economic Area nationals in February 2007. Today Irish citizens are not routinely considered for deportation from the UK when they are released from prison, for example.

All Irish citizens were considered to be British subjects under British law prior to 1949. After Ireland was declared a republic the same year, a consequent British law granted Irish citizens a similar status to Commonwealth citizens in the UK, even though they had ceased to be such. Thus, similar to UK citizens in Ireland, Irish citizens in the UK have not ever been treated as foreigners. Irish citizens have, however—similar to Commonwealth citizens— been subject to immigration laws in UK since the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 went into effect.

EU citizens other than British and Irish nationals can freely enter and live in the UK and Ireland under EU law, but are required to carry valid travel documents. Residents of both the UK and Ireland are no doubt celebrating this deal between the United Kingdom and Ireland that will allow citizens of both countries to retain the right to live and work in either country after the UK’s departure from the EU.

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