The implications of Brexit are rather wide and far-reaching – there isn’t enough time, chocolate or coffee in the world which could be used to bribe one to write about all of them. That being said, the pressures which already exist on the "sandwich generation" could be amplified by Brexit.

The trend of increasing life expectancy coupled with the fact that many are starting families later on in their lives means that a significant proportion of the UK population find themselves being classed as the "sandwich generation". The sandwich generation are those individuals who are faced with the dual task of caring for elderly parents alongside their own children. And caring for your child does not necessarily stop when they head off to university – as a result of it getting harder and harder to get on the career and property ladders, it is estimated that a quarter of adults aged between 20 to 34 are still living at home.

The pressures on the sandwich generation are therefore quite immense.

So what does Brexit have to do with this?

Well Brexit has the potential to adversely affect those EU nationals who form part of the sandwich generation. This is because there are actually two different legal routes by which an elderly relative can be sponsored into the UK. There is the EU route (which is only available to EU nationals) and there is the Immigration Rules route (which is available to British nationals or those with permanent residence in the UK). 

Under EU law, as it currently stands, an EU national can submit an application which allows their elderly parents to join them in the UK. The application is relative straightforward and the requirements are not overly strict. There is quite a bit of uncertainty around what the future position will be (in the event of a deal or no-deal Brexit) but it would appear that those EU nationals who are resident in the UK prior to the official Brexit date may still be able to sponsor their elderly parents. But any EU nationals not resident in the UK prior to the relevant date may find that they will have to meet the very stringent requirements of the Immigration Rules (aka, Appendix FM)should they decide to relocate to the UK at a later date.

Appendix FM is the aspect of the UK immigration system which governs how British nationals (or those settled in the UK) may be able to sponsor family members into the UK. Prior to July 2012, Appendix FM did not exist. The rules that were in place pre-July 2012 were fairly straightforward. As a sponsor you were required to demonstrate that your parents were dependent on you financially and that there was no other relative in their own country whom the parents could turn to for financial support.

But in July 2012, these rules were completely re-written (i.e. Appendix FM) with the consequence that it is now almost impossible to sponsor an elderly parent into the UK. Under the new rules (Appendix FM), a UK based sponsor has to show:

  • that the elderly parent cannot perform everyday tasks (and therefore requires long-term personal care);
  • that, even with the practical and financial support of the sponsor, the required level of care cannot be obtained in the country of residence because it not available or it is not affordable; and
  • the UK sponsor has sufficient resources in place to pay for the long-term care required should the parent be in the UK.

The rule change has meant that the number of visas issued to parents and grandparents has gone from approximately 2,300 per year to an average of 160 per year.

Appendix FM has moved the goalpost from a parent being fit and healthy (but financially dependent on an UK sponsor) to requiring the parent to be suffering from illness or disability which cannot be cared for in the country of origin. This is not the only difficulty – how does one show that you cannot afford the medical care or support in the country of origin but you can afford it in the United Kingdom? It is an incredibly narrow line that you have to walk but one that many feel they have to try and navigate so that they can continue to provide for their parents.

At the moment, EU nationals do not have to worry about this narrow line as they can benefit from EU law and the easier route to sponsoring elderly parents. Post-Brexit though, EU nationals may find that Appendix FM will be the barrier to family reunification.