How Will Brexit Affect Israelis in Britain?

Even though the U.K. encourages foreign students to enroll in its institutions of higher learning, and allows them to work as well, things may now change.

A person riding atop a double-decker bus displays a sign related to Britain's recent 'Brexit' vote at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California, June 26, 2016.
Josh Edelson, AFP

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is expected to directly affect tens of thousands of Israelis who also hold British or European citizenship, and who study or work in the United Kingdom. These Israelis enjoy the right to live and work there as well as major discounts on tuition for higher education, as citizens of an EU country.

The process of leaving the EU is expected to take two years or so, during which no major changes will occur in the rights of the Israelis living, working or studying in the U.K. Those who use their British passports to work or study in other EU nations are also not expected to have any immediate problems. But it is still unclear what will happen after Britain actually splits off from the EU, and the picture will become clearer only in a few months, if then, depending on the progress of the negotiations between Brussels and London.

The first to be affected will likely be individuals with various EU passports who are legally permitted to live and work in the U.K.

Daliah Sklar, a British and Israeli lawyer, specializes in immigration cases. She estimates that any new, post-Brexit agreements will protect those who are already settled in Britain and have steady jobs.

“It is reasonable to assume that the government will allow educated people with connections in Britain to remain, especially those who work or own companies there,” she says. Those who may have problems later are the unemployed, and people who receive government housing or other welfare benefits, and who “have not contributed in return to the economy,” Sklar adds.

Thousands of Israelis study in Britain, many of whom pay reduced tuition rates because of their EU citizenship. They are also entitled to work in the U.K., without limitation, even while they study.

Even though Britain encourages foreign students to enroll in its institutions of higher learning, after Brexit their status may well change. Foreigners wishing to enroll in a local academic institution will most likely have to pay full tuition – even if they have French or German citizenship, for example. There will also be more limits on the amount they can work. This could make it much more difficult for many Israelis who want to study at universities and other institutions in the U.K.

Those who could actually benefit from Brexit are Israelis who do not have citizenship from an EU country, says Sklar. As of today, in order to receive a work permit in Britain, you need an invitation from a local company or a commitment to personally invest over £200,000 (over 1 million shekels).

At the same, time should the automatic permission now granted to citizens from EU nations to work in Britain be canceled, the British government may very well make it easier for some people to receive a work visa. For example, as in Australia and Canada, Britain could ease the conditions for a work permit for young people in certain professions, such as engineers and doctors.

Those who are not expected to be affected by Brexit in the U.K. are tourists from Israel. The two countries have a visa waiver agreement, going back to even before the EU was established. It would appear that after completion of Britain’s exit process, Israelis will not be asked to apply for visas to enter Britain, one of the biggest tourist destinations for Israelis. In the short term, tourists may even benefit a bit from the recent referendum, as the steep drop in the value of the pound has made a trip to the U.K. much cheaper.