This question relates to the potential withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, a.k.a. Brexit.

I am an Italian citizen, and I will start a (funded) PhD in the UK in September.

Right now I don't need any particular documents to stay there, but I am worried that if the UK decides to leave the EU my position could be in trouble (especially with regards to funding).

What would happen in such a situation?

I am aware this question might be labeled as opinion-based, but I am looking for people who already got answers from their universities. I imagine financial plans have been established for the next two-three years already.

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    I think this question is not so much opinion-based as it is unanswerable right now. It's not like there is a clear, well-defined set of rules for how a country exits the EU, as this has never been done before. One can only speculate at this point what might happen, and this site is not particularly well-suited for speculations that may need to be reverted as soon as there is more info.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 14, 2016 at 12:24
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    Maybe this is more of a law question than an academic question. Jun 14, 2016 at 12:33
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    I just don't think there is any way to "inform" yourself currently. It is simply not defined yet.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 14, 2016 at 12:44
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    Not a precise duplicate, but see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/64963/… and answers there.
    – Ian
    Jun 14, 2016 at 13:32
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    @ColBeseder I do NOT need a passport. I went to the airport with my ID card, when I arrived in Edinburgh's airport there is a queue specifically for EU citizens (+ switzerland and some other country) and I just gave the policeman my ID and was done.
    – Bakuriu
    Jun 15, 2016 at 9:10

6 Answers 6


Update on 2016-06-28: The UK Government has put out an official statement on this issue.

The short answer is "We don't know yet, but for a PhD program likely not."

The terms of Brexit have not been negotiated. They will may start to be negotiated if and after a vote to leave wins the referendum. (So that's the "we don't know".) On the other hand, it will be at least two years after the vote before the actual British exit from the EU (presumably to negotiate and to allow a graceful transition). If you are starting a 3-year PhD program this fall, there's a good chance that the negotiations will not have concluded fast enough to directly affect your research.

Source: the BBC writes

If the UK left the EU would UK citizens need special permits to work in the EU?

Lots of people asked about this. A lot would depend on the kind of deal the UK agreed with the EU after exit. If it remained within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa. If the government opted to impose work permit restrictions, as UKIP wants, then other countries could reciprocate, meaning Britons would have to apply for visas to work.

What about EU nationals who want to work in the UK?

As explained in the answer above, it would depend on whether the UK government decided to introduce a work permit system of the kind that currently applies to non-EU citizens, limiting entry to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages.


How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?

This was a question asked by many people. The minimum period after a vote to leave would be two years. During that time Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making, as it negotiated a withdrawal agreement and the terms of its relationship with the now 27 nation bloc. In practice it may take longer than two years, depending on how the negotiations go.

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    "If it remained within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa." Given that a large proportion of "leave" voters are apparently doing so because they don't want other EU citizens to have free movement rights in the UK, this doesn't seem like a likely outcome. That said, the situation for getting academic visas when coming from non-EU countries to the UK is apparently reasonably good in any case, so it is unlikely the OP would have an issue because of this.
    – Jules
    Jun 14, 2016 at 17:04
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    @Jules a substantial proportion of voters in this referendum are not, shall we say, being well-informed about the future options they're voting for. Jun 14, 2016 at 17:40
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    "It will start to be negotiated if and after a vote to leave wins the referendum" Not "will" but "may". The referendum is non-binding. Jun 14, 2016 at 17:46
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    Vote Leave wish to “take back control on immigration” much sooner than that. When the Swiss “took back control”, H2020 funds were frozen and they were thrown out of Erasmus immediately, if I recall correctly. I fear effects may be felt sooner than the date that the UK formally leaves the EU.
    – gerrit
    Jun 15, 2016 at 11:02
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    @Pyrite undergrad degree courses in the UK range from 3-5 years, so someone starting a course now risks being hit by the fallout of brexit after they have already committed significant time/money to the course but while they are still a fair way from completion. Jun 16, 2016 at 4:01

I was a funded PhD student from Russia in the 90s, before the EU existed. There are no issues as long as you have paperwork in order. I haven't had any problems at all.

The way it works is that British immigration will typically give you a "leave to remain" for 3 years when you enter the country. This allows you to come in and out of the country at any time, open a bank account, phone service, etc. I think you even get the NHS.

If your program takes longer (and again, you will have to supply paperwork) you may have to extend your leave to remain.

You do have to get a visa, which takes a couple of months. Apply at the British Consulate in Italy with all paperwork. Your visa will get exchanged for the "leave to remain" and a stamp in your passport with the expiration date; until that date you are, basically, British.

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    UK immigration laws have gotten steadily stricter over the last decade or so I've lived here (currently a citizen, was originally a non eu immigrant). While the essence of this answer may still be correct, please be very wary of "old" advice regarding immigration. The older it is the less it may reflect current practice Jun 15, 2016 at 12:55
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    That wasn't true for me -- we had the paperwork, lawyers etc -- I ended up getting a much better deal in the US so no complaints really. Jun 15, 2016 at 13:53
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    Alexander, what do you mean? Could you provide examples (or sources) of things I could do with a visa (can I even get one?) but I couldn't do if I enter UK with my ID as an italian citizen in the current scenario? Or are you referring to an hypothetic post-yes-to-Brexit scenario? Jun 15, 2016 at 17:32
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    @AlexanderKrotov everything you said is true BUT only if he is a non-EU national, for example Russian, and I think he does have an Italian passport, so he is a EU national. Things are different in this case, EU/EEA nationals (+Swiss nationals) CAN come to the UK without any visa and work immediately without any documentation indefinitely. That's why it's called a free movement of people, EEA + Swiss nationals are treated the same as UK nationals in the UK. You just wave the passport to the border control and they do not put any stamps, they just look at it visually and give it back to you.
    – kiradotee
    Jun 16, 2016 at 1:43
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    @AlexanderKrotov if AnalysisStudent0414 will try to go to the British embassy and requests a visa I think they will reject his application automatically (at least that's what happens when you try to get a Schengen visa if you are a EU national, so should be the same for the UK I think) because it's like if you are Belarus national and you try to get a visa to Russia.
    – kiradotee
    Jun 16, 2016 at 1:46

Even if British people opt for Brexit, it will take time. According to Refs. [1] and [2], it will take years for the Brexit to actually happen. I'm pretty sure you have plenty of time to arrange everything.

But just in case, I would get a signed contract mentioning the funding/salary from the university if you don't already have one.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35921610 [2] https://www.rt.com/uk/346505-brexit-how-long-leave/

Edit: Added additional reference.


As others noted, so far it can only be guesstimates. And for your PhD funding that does obviously depend on the small print, but:
There are other non-EU countries in Europe, such as Norway and Switzerland. My personal guess is that a brexited UK will have relations to the EU that are similar to those.

Wrt. to academia, a lot of the EU things are actually not restricted to EU countries. A number of associated countries e.g. for Horizon2020 are eligible as well (which are far more than just Norway and Switzerland). That are for example COST and Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. Which would mean little if any change for a Marie Curie funded PhD if UK ends up being associated.

BTW, there seems (hearsay only) to be quite a distinction already in the UK between funded PhD positions that are eligible for UK citizens only and funded PhD positions that are open to EU citizens (or Horizon2020 countries) such as the Marie Curie funded positions.

As for loosing funding for a PhD position for which you do have a valid contract, I don't think the risk is high. The UK votes on leaving EU, not on abolishing their whole legal system. Retroactively changing requirements for temporary contracts would be rather costly in terms of violation of the principle of legality. (Though governments sometimes do have a tendency towards ex post facto rules like "as of last year, we'll collect a new tax")

As for the burocratic paperwork, sure there may be some changes. But again, my guess is that it wouldn't be much worse than the paperwork I had to do as a EU citizen when working in Italy as a postdoc (comparison: young worker exchange visum for Canada was less paperwork).

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    Tuition fees in UK are vastly different for EU and for non-EU citizens (e.g.: Imperial College, 9k vs. 27k / year). I think that Norway and Switzerland currently count as EU (possibly because it is technically for EEA, not for EU citizens). I wonder what will happen after Brexit.
    – amoeba
    Jun 15, 2016 at 11:55
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    @amoeba: Switzerland is not EEA but they have (lots of) bilateral agreements. (I've see UK tuition fee lists where the category was "EU/EEA/Switzerland") Leaving the EU does not necessarily imply that UK universities cannot have a EU/EEA/Switzerland category any more. OTOH, students from the Isle of Man already now have to pay overseas tuition ... Jun 15, 2016 at 12:56
  • Yeah, Switzerland is a special case, even in the UK government website it says "Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market - this means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals.". © gov.uk/eu-eea
    – kiradotee
    Jun 16, 2016 at 1:58
  • @cbeleites The problem is that the whole point of leaving the EU seems to be to somehow restrict the freedom of movement for persons. That's an integral part of the single market to which both Norway and Switzerland had to consent to get the rest. It's obviously possible to retain that while being formally out of the EU but it's not clear that it would satisfy anybody in the UK…
    – Relaxed
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:40

Noone knows for sure what will happen. The government has not negotiated exist terms in advance of the refferendum. It will likely take a couple of years for an exit to be negotiated which unfortunately for you means that the actual exit may come roughly in the middle of your degree.

There are two aspects to this. Funding and immigration/border control.

I think it's highly unlikey that immigration/border control will stop you from studying in the UK but it's concinvable that you may have to jump through some hoops (get a passport, get a student visa on that passport).

Funding is a far thornier issue IMO. I would hope that funding bodies would put transitional arrangements in place to continue paying existing students but I don't think it can be garuanteed in the face of a major shakeup like this. Especially if your funding is coming from a UK government source.


As other people have said, it is unlikely to affect a PhD that is starting in September.

However when you have finished your PhD you will want a job…. If Brexit has completed by then, it may be a lot harder to get a job in the UK, due to the employer having to get a work permit for you. (You may also not be able to take a job to support yourself while doing the PhD, likewise for your wife etc.)

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